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Step inside Maple Street School in Brooklyn, New York, and you might wonder if you came to the right place. The maple-paneled space looks more like a start-up than a drop-off site for kids—until you notice that the countertops and plastic chairs are knee-high. Local studio 4|MATIV designed the space "to express the school’s ethos‚" which prioritizes a tactile‚ flexible environment‚ says architect Priya Patel.
Patel runs 4|MATIV with interior and industrial designer Esther Beke; for their educational clients‚ the duo create environments that are low-tech and stimulate the senses. At the entrance to Maple Street School‚ a colorful wood pegboard gets kids playing immediately‚ taking their attention away from being separated from whoever brought them.
At Mi Casita Preschool‚ another site in Brooklyn designed by the team‚ pint-size nooks line the walls‚ creating an indoor playscape. The designers prefer to use organic materials‚ like wood and nubby natural textiles‚ to add tactile surfaces where possible.
"Our approach is driven by the idea of play rather than a sense of design‚" says Patel‚ citing pedagogies like the Bank Street Developmental Interactive Model‚ which states that children learn best when they get hands-on engagement with materials‚ and the Reggio Emilia approach‚ which touts the benefits of self-directed, experiential learning.
Schools often operate on tight budgets‚ but 4|MATIV wants to prove that its preferred materials—natural‚ low-VOC‚ made to be touched—can often be just as economical as vinyl flooring. The Daltile communal sink at Maple Street‚ for instance‚ is an affordable alternative to one clad in porcelain.
Some of 4|MATIV’s material choices (such as recycled flooring and LED lighting options) have been added to the New York School Construction Authority’s approved list of safe specifications. "Though the schools we’ve worked with have tight budgets‚ we’ve added an incredible amount of value to their curriculum‚" Beke says. "Design can support the business of education."
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