The laboratory school is rooted in John Dewey’s conception of experiential education. It aims to inject direct, lived experience into the learning environment. The school allows for multiple scales of interaction and creates conditions where children have agency over their own learning, allowing them to evaluate and produce their own experience through physical, sensory, and expressive means. These goals are reinforced through constant contact and exchange with the stuff of the real world, a critical component of experiential education. The laboratory school is not only meant to be a place for gaining access to knowledge, but it is also meant to be a place where children learn to live and engage with the context beyond its walls.
Flexible workshop and laboratory spaces are of primary importance in a laboratory school, which is meant to create a context for human development through immersive and experiential learning. These spaces form the pedagogical core of the laboratory school experience, and they produce a creative and collaborative atmosphere that expands knowledge beyond the classroom.
The project is comprised of a series of loosely stacked blocks that resemble a scatter of children’s toys. While each of the volumes is directly aligned to either W 125th Street or W 129th Street in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the school escapes the biases of frontality through the use of scale, rotation, setback, plaza and overhang. The components are simultaneously engaged with the perimeter and the urban fabric while producing exterior conditions that are almost agnostic to the city grid. Each stacked volume shares a tangential alignment with the next as they proceed in a clockwise rotation up the stack.