“A spirited place satisfies [our] souls. It possesses a wholeness that makes the heart sing, the soul rejoice, the body feel safe… It is the spirit of place…that expands our sense of possibility and puts us in touch with what is most loving, creative, and human about ourselves.” ~ Anita Olds
Anita Rui Olds was a passionate woman, teacher, and designer of spaces, who taught me that the foundation of all learning must be a
“rich environment for the wild spirit to flourish.” A psychologist by training, Olds became one of the world’s most significant contributors in the field of “space use” for children. It has been decades since I sat, as a grad school student, in her classes. Yet how clear it is that the parameters she set for designing kids’ spaces then, are consistent with what humans need now, regardless of our age.
Last week I visited Rockland, ME’s evolving Steel House.
A place where artists (and teens and adults who can learn from them) will also flourish, studio spaces are open, yet defined. Even on a gray day when only its founder was on site, light filled spaces on every level. Here whitewashed walls, ceilings that seem to reach the sky, and windows that look to the sea could make any one of our spirits dance. What I saw in these spaces was all that I had learned from Dr. Olds and gleaned most recently from Reggio -inspired classrooms.
“Space is an element that generates contact, along with evolution and transformation” writes Lella Gandini in The Hundred Languages of Children. Recognizing that social exchange, communication, cooperation, and even conflict, arise when learners share ideas or explore new directions,
Gandini, like Olds, believes that
small spaces must exist within larger ones. And an open “piazza,” or common space, whether in a school or shared studio, brings us together.
In all spaces – their design, organization, and aesthetic appearance teach us. Materials, how we classify them and contain them, convey expectations, or at the very least, send a message (how tempting it was to touch both girls’ shoes and boys’ shoes for sale in wheelbarrows outside a footwear shop.)
Our spaces empower us. Relax us. Connect us. Focus us. Instruct us. They can satisfy our souls.
Thank you, Tom Weis, for taking me through Steel House and for helping me better understand the power of a creative space.