At Chicago’s Kids Science Labs: Why?

People / Places / March 24, 2015

The pivotal question at the Kids Science Labs in Chicago, designed by Woodhouse Tinucci Architects, is simple enough:

Why?

As in: Why are the walls made of plywood? Why is there no ceiling? Why is it okay to write on the walls – or to throw things at them or even over them?

Because it’s all about answers – not black or white, or yes or no. Because it’s not about standardized tests- but about kids from two to 12, reaching their own conclusions.

And it was designed that way, to fit with the teachers’ curriculum.

“The answer is that there isn’t a right answer,” says architect Andy Tinucci. “They should feel free to make their own answers.”

The firm developed architectural solutions that provide frameworks so that kids can develop their own answers. A wall made of plywood is perfect, for example, for fastening a screw into, and plugging in a pulley from the grid on the ceiling, and moving something around.

“You could study that. Or throw something at the wall to see what happens, for conversations about force and impact,” he says.

So what’s up with the garage door?

“First of all, it’s inside, so the answer is immediately visible,” he says. “There can be a classroom that can be privatized at 400 square feet – but if you want to experiment, you can open it up and the classroom can grow up to 4,000 square feet.

The firm has designed two centers so far, with two more planned. They serve as learning centers for pre-schoolers, after-schoolers and home-schoolers. And they’re all about looking at everyday materials in new ways, for original answers.

“It’s a space that’s unconventional to a child – it’s simple and elemental,” he says. “You’re  exposing concrete on the ceiling and the floor, and exposing plywood and meta – they see a space built from elemental materials rather than ornamental.”

Which makes the answer to the question of “Why?” as much about art as it is about science.

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Michael Welton
I write about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. I am the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand" (Routledge, 2015), and the former architecture critic for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C.




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