Stockholm’s School Without Classrooms

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

Children have wild imaginations. Take Max from Maurice Sendak’s illustrated classic Where the Wild Things Are, whose mischievous tantrums cause his room to sprout into a lush, inhabited forest. In a similar experience of my own, I can recall a particular elementary school gym class, in which the gym was transformed into the perilous domain of a sword-wielding ‘gorilla’—played by my gym teacher. The masked predator hid behind colossal trees of rolled blue gymnastic mats and tangled cargo net vines before springing out to prey on us hysterical, spritely youth.

The young—and the young at heart—have a seemingly infinite capacity to project fantasies unto ordinary spaces. It is this kernel of wide-eyed creativity that carries on into adulthood, fighting to stay alive and to push us to keep imagining new and better worlds. Swedish educators seem to have had this in mind when they commissioned the architects at Rosan Bosch to build a wholly original kind of schoolhouse. The Swedish Free School Organization Vittra has been pioneering a new kind of pedagogical space, specifically one without walls. Gone are the classrooms and their rigid alignment of desks, and in their place emerges a colorful, seamless landscape of abstractly themed learning environments.

The principles of the Vittra School revolve around the breakdown of physical and metaphorical class divisions as a fundamental step to promoting intellectual curiosity, self-confidence, and communally responsible behavior. Therefore, in Vittra’s custom-built Stockholm location, spaces are only loosely defined by permeable borders and large, abstract landmarks. As the architects explained, “instead of classical divisions with chairs and tables, a giant iceberg for example serves as cinema, platform, and room for relaxation, and sets the frame for many different types of learning,” while “flexible laboratories make it possible to work hands-on with themes and projects.”

Rosan Bosch were particularly mindful of the Vittra schools’ resolve to introduce digital media as a key pedagogical tool, providing ample space for students to work on individual laptops in big or small groups. The rational divisions of space with designated functions are therefore replaced with a flowing indoor topography that lends itself to infinite uses and furthermore inspires students to take the space as fertile grounds to collaborate and seed their own ideas. We also can’t help but draw comparisons to the enviable office spaces designed for Facebook and AoL by Studio O+A. If this is a trend, we are digging it!

[All photos © Kim Wendt and Rosan Bosch]