- Designed: 2010
- Type: Public space, unbuilt
- Initially designed by Nasim Razavian as the graduation project for Bachelor’s Degree diploma in Architecture, Art University of Tehran
- Location: Karaj, Iran
The assignment to design a child-museum was an absurd assignment. What is a museum? It is conventionally known as a place where different objects of some sort of value are exhibited. But what would you show in a child museum? Children’s artworks? Historical toys?
This project critically rethinks where a museum is; not as a space that merely exhibits objects but a space which stimulates knowledge. In that line of thinking a child museum can be a space that celebrates children’s ingenuity, knowledge, and their peculiar modes of relation to space.
Children’s perception of space is totally different from the adults’ (of course it is all subjective) and it changes as they grow. This can be clearly seen in their paintings and their playing. Why do we assume that a child should be “educated” to gain more knowledge and skills to become a more “useful”, “functional”, and “better” member of the society? Isn’t it a prejudice that we as adults assume, that in every aspect of life, we have more knowledge than the child and we should pass our valuable knowledge to our children? Is the development of a child a linear path going towards greater levels of intelligence? Then why is that that an artist’s mode of knowledge is more similar to that of a child instead of an adult? Intelligence is not a linear path and children are not less competent thinkers than adults.
The child psychologist Jean Piaget developed the Stage theory of cognitive development where he introduces different “categories” for children’s cognitive relation to space. (Unlike Piaget, I prefer to use the term “categories” instead of “stages” to not suggest superiority and inferiority of one over the other). In each of these cognitive categories children perceives space, geometry, or objects differently. Piaget also refers to the different “schemata”, the everchanging blocks of knowledge that construct our relation to the world. Thinking together with Piaget (and partially differing from his still linear mode of thinking about the development of the child) the main intention of the project was to celebrate the child’s modes of knowledge and cognitive relations to space in their multiplicity.
The site was located in Karaj, an urban and highly industrialized city which has steadily grown next to the capital. From south and west it is surrounded by apple gardens and from north and east it faces a highway and a street.
Here children discover everything by themselves through experiencing and playing. It is play, this magical mode of knowledge which is being exhibited in this museum. This museum is a play-ground.
The entire ground is formed earth and it is smoothly undulated to suggest different types of playful movements like climbing and running, activate different spatial experiences, and provide view over the apple gardens.
The entrance to the museum is a series of geometrical games. Children’s perception of geometry changes as they grow. According to Piaget, younger children only understand Euclidean geometry, later they sense the coordinates and axis, and after that they can understand geometrical theories. A coordinates-balance plane, works like a collective seesaw and floats on water. Children have to move to keep their balance as a group in order not to fall in water. The theory of Triangle Inequality may be sensed when they run between two hollow spheres around the triangular pool.
The central cube works with five senses and creates spatial situations in which only one of the senses is activated. The spices section, the straw room, the darkroom and the lightroom, the anechoic chamber, and the mix & eat section all tone down other senses in favour of one. A large floor is constantly and collectively being painted by children.
Ramp of nature,
Playing with the natural matter instead of toys is important because it activates free play, imagination and creativity that most toys take away. This is highly important specially for urban children who are more detached from such modes of playing. Along this ramp children can play with soil, wind, fire, and water.
A childhood memory
The project also has a more personal part to it. It recreates a memory of a place from my own childhood where I used to feel the pleasure of imaginary playing the most: A broken car and its scattered dismantled particles under an almond tree on top of a smooth hill.