There have always been children's spaces, in the sense that every culture has understood some spaces to be more appropriate than others for children and their activities. However, the practice of providing purpose-built spaces exclusively for the use of children became widespread only in the nineteenth century, coincident with the conceptualization of childhood as a special phase of human existence. While much of the historical literature has interpreted the creation of child-centered spaces as a boon to the young, scholars of contemporary childhood have started to bemoan what the two German sociologists Helga and Hartmut Zeiher have called the "islanding" of childhood–the tendency to insulate children's spaces from one another, as well as from spaces used by adults.
Throughout history, the home has been the institution most closely associated with children and childhood. In general, most housing types developed in the West assigned women and children to the most private and protected areas of the home. These layers of protection generally increased with the wealth of the family. In the large Roman domus, for example, the peristyle area furthest from the street was reserved for family life, while the atrium near the front of the house was for more public functions. Many Roman families, however, lived together in one-room homes, illustrated by the remarkable walk-up, multi-family dwellings, called insulae, at Ostia, the port of Rome.
This is in sharp contrast to the relatively fixed patterns developed in Chinese courtyard houses. In the Chinese siheyuan, a walled enclosure of four buildings around a quadrangle with a north-south axis, the hierarchy of the family is clearly reflected in the rigid plan regardless of social class: the south building was for servants, the two side buildings were for unmarried children and married sons with families, while the main building facing south was occupied by the parents.
The Islamic urban house, on the other hand, was divided into two sections strictly according to gender: the salamlik and the haramlik. The salamlik was the public part of the house where male visitors and friends were received. The haramlik, on the other hand, was a secluded precinct for women and children. In larger homes each part of the house included a courtyard, while in smaller houses, the division was vertical, with women and children sequestered upstairs. Even the windows of the haramlik were carefully designed to prevent neighbors from seeing inside.
The urban medieval house in western Europe could boast no such clear divisions. Special spaces for women and children did not exist; children, including young apprentices, occupied every room in these remarkably sophisticated multipurpose dwellings that accommodated both work and domestic life. Youngsters occupied particular spaces according to the time of day (e.g., children might play during the day in a room reserved for sleeping adults at night), rather than through a predetermined division of space by age.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the development of special rooms for children has followed the larger pattern of increasingly specific spaces with regard to function. Special rooms for children appeared in the middle-class house about 1830, designed to protect children from the world, as well as to protect the rest of the Victorian house from children. Advice books generally forbade children to enter the main rooms of the house, especially the parlor, except when accompanied by their parents. Accounts in fiction and prescriptive literature suggest that Victorian-era children often
are separately from parents, perhaps in the kitchen or in servants' quarters. The high chair, which was purpose-built dining furniture, restricted a child's movements and protected the other furnishings from his or her touch.
The nursery was certainly a significant feature of grand eighteenth-century houses and an essential characteristic of the Victorian house. As the setting for play, education, and sometimes sleeping, the nursery was frequently on the uppermost floor of a house, with direct connections to the family bedrooms or kitchen through a special corridor. This spatial separation of children in the middle-class home paralleled the rise of a specialist servant, the nanny, to care for them. The removal of children from the best rooms in the house may have served to alleviate maternal anxiety, but it was also evidence that children were seen as unique beings, rather than simply as tiny versions of adults. Specialty furniture, china, and of course toys also support this notion, as do small purpose-built play houses by famous architects, such as the one designed for the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, by Peabody and Stearns.
Most twentieth-century houses, especially those built after World War I, were smaller and servantless. With the disappearance of servant quarters and the "back stair" and with the identification of the kitchen with mother (rather than a servant) came an increasing integration of children's spaces into the heart of the house. Bedrooms for children were next to parents' bedrooms; bathrooms were shared. In general, the early twentieth century saw a relaxation of social regulations. The "living room" in the bungalow, for example, was much more likely to have accommodated children than was the Victorian parlor.
The most revolutionary change to the middle-class house came in the period immediately following World War II, both in terms of setting and room arrangement. The baby boom inspired a mass exodus of middle-class families to suburbia, mostly picturesque neighborhoods with detached houses framed by front and back yards. Children occupied (and controlled) several key rooms in these ranch-style and split-level houses, especially the so-called multipurpose or family room. This room was typically at the rear of the house, visible from the kitchen, and featured the family television (after 1960 or so). Other important children's spaces in the post–World War II house were the basement and the back yard. Postwar basements were significant spaces of escape from parents, especially for teenagers, and were the ideal setting for listening to rock music and playing games such as ping pong or pool which required too much space to fit the rooms on the main floor of the house. Backyards provided space and domestic equipment for play.
In the period since 1975, children typically occupy nearly every room in the middle-class home, with the exception of the living room. The family room remains the heart of family life, with the television at its center. Kitchens have become even larger, a sort of "super center" intended to facilitate cooking (by more than just mom), homework, and sometimes computer facilities. Bedrooms remain gender- and age-specific and continue to function as important places of solitude and self-expression for children of all ages.
Also significant in this era is the rise of the purpose-built daycare facility. Daycare is sometimes accommodated in non-purpose-built, "inherited" spaces, such as churches, schools, and community centers, or sometimes it is integrated into large workplaces, such as office buildings and hospitals. But the daycare has also become an important custom building type. In most cases, purpose-built daycare facilities draw directly on the language of domestic architecture, employing regional building materials, pitched roofs, bright colors, and easily legible room shapes. Daycare facilities typically comprise a series of small classrooms arranged along both sides of a corridor, as well as administrative offices and kitchens. Exterior play spaces, like the postwar private backyard, commonly feature equipment to encourage safe group play. Increasingly, security has become a concern in daycare centers (due to perceived increases in urban violence and child abductions) and as a result, daycare centers are frequently surrounded by fences and entered only by workers, parents, and guardians.
Spaces for Education
Schools were undoubtedly the first spaces outside the private home built specifically for the use of children. Indeed, a schoolroom was incorporated into Winchester College in England as early as 1394, while a number of purpose-built grammar school buildings date from the fifteenth century. Typically financed by private benefactors, such schools were often part of extensive charitable foundations that could also include a church, almshouses, and a schoolmaster's house, as was the case for the two-story brick school building constructed in 1437 in Ewelme (Oxon.), England. In this Gothic building, a large schoolroom was located on the ground floor, while the room above it presumably served as a dormitory for the boys. By the sixteenth century, many English grammar schools used a similar schoolroom/dormitory core flanked on either side by living quarters for the master and usher. This arrangement was still in use in the late seventeenth century; Sir Christopher Wren used it in the initial designs for the grammar school at Appleby Magna (in Leicestershire) between 1693 and 1697. In these early schoolrooms, students sat on benches that lined the long walls at right angles to the master's seat at the end of the room. Lessons stressed oral performance; writing was not emphasized in early schools, and well into the seventeenth century, students were expected to use their knees for a table.
In the late eighteenth century, the specter of large numbers of poor children roaming the streets of London prompted educational reformer Joseph Lancaster to advocate a radical reorganization of the schoolroom in order to educate the largest number of children at the least expense. Lancastrian schools accommodated hundreds of students in each room, with students seated in long rows in the center of the classroom, facing the teacher's desk. Wide aisles on either side of the room provided space for students to stand in semicircles for small group lessons supervised by student monitors. Lancastrian schools were built in England, as well as in Philadelphia and New York, where they were constructed of brick and largely unornamented, in keeping with the movement's concern for economy. An emphasis on extending education to the children of the poor remained a primary concern throughout the nineteenth century, especially in England and other parts of the British Empire, where socalled Ragged Schools (tuition-free schools for poor children) were established at midcentury. The Ragged Schools Union was formed in Britain in 1844, while the first Ragged School was opened in Sydney, Australia, in 1860. Initially housed in rented quarters in a grim, two-story, stone former warehouse with barred windows, in 1872 the school moved into a purpose-built school room paid for by funds raised by public appeal.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a growing conviction that purpose-built schools were essential to good education, and school boards in many countries began devoting a great deal of attention to the design and construction of school buildings, often producing model building plans and specifications. In the United States, the spokesman for school reform was Rhode Island Commissioner of Public Schools Henry Barnard, who first published School Architecture, or Contributions to the Improvement of School-Houses in the United States in 1842. In England, London School Board architect E. R. Robson published his School Architecture in 1874, while in France La Commission d'hygiène des écoles was established in 1882. Although the architectural style of these buildings varied greatly–Barnard favored the Greek Revival, while Robson's schools were Queen Anne–they all retained rectangular schoolrooms, with chairs bolted into place facing the teacher's (often elevated) desk and emphasized fenced in school grounds, separate entrances for boys and girls, and enhanced provision of natural light, heating, ventilation, and toilet facilities.
The nineteenth century also saw the establishment of kindergartens. These child-centered institutions sought to counteract the impact of the industrialized city by reconnecting young children to a coherent socializing system and by reestablishing their bond with the natural world. Although the founding kindergarten theorists–JohannHeinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel–worked in the early nineteenth century, purpose-built kindergarten buildings were few until the twentieth century. A notable exception is the New Institution for the Formation of Character, built in 1816 for Robert Owen as part of the model factory settlement at New Lanark, Scotland. Inspired by Pestalozzi's child-centered institution in Yverdon, Owen established an infant school in a room that he had furnished with maps and representations of zoological and mineralogical specimens. Even in the second half of the nineteenth century, kindergartens in England, the United States, and Germany were defined more by their pedagogical approach–particularly the use of Froebel's "gifts" (educational toys)–than by any architectural form. Many of these privately funded kindergartens were housed in buildings designed for other purposes.
In the early twentieth century, purpose-built kindergartens became more common. In the United States and England they tended to take the form of a specially shaped classroom attached to a primary school, while in Europe the kindergarten tended to be a distinct building type. Those associated with the Waldorf School Movement (which began in 1919 when Rudolf Steiner started Die Freie Waldorf-schule, for the children of the workers at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart) tended to favor organic forms that seemed to support Steiner's emphasis on cultivating higher mental faculties through the total harmony of the senses. More common in the 1920s and 1930s were kindergartens designed in a modern idiom, like the 1934 nursery school on the outskirts of Zurich where architect Hans Leuzinger provided direct access to the out-of-doors, ample daylighting, and light moveable furniture scaled to young children.
In the early twentieth century, Progressive pedagogical theorists (notably Karl Popper in Germany and JohnDewey in the United States) began to apply the basic philosophy of the kindergarten movement–attention to the development of the whole child–to primary and secondary school students. In its modern manifestation, however, this educational reform movement was understood to depend absolutely on the transformation of the school's architectural form. Not only were school rooms fitted out with light, portable furniture that could be rearranged to facilitate different classroom activities, but Progressive schools also included a wide range of other facilities: fully equipped playgrounds, baths, gymnasia, art studios, scientific laboratories, shops for woodworking and handicrafts, and home economics classrooms. Auditoria and libraries were often included as well, to serve both students and the wider community. In order to make these amenities more affordable, the Gary, Indiana, school system introduced the platoon system (also called the Gary plan) in 1909. Aimed at using all school facilities at once, this system divided the student body into two platoons, each of which used conventional classrooms for academic subjects while the other was involved in special activities. Schools planned for this system typically included a large auditorium at the center of the building, with special classrooms grouped together on lower floors.
In Europe, Progressive educational reform often went hand in hand with attempts to bring students into closer communion with the natural landscape. Early in the twentieth century, open air schools–with neither heating nor glazing–were built primarily for tubercular children; the first of these was the Waldschule (Forest School) established in Charlottenburg, Germany in 1904. By the 1920s, however, open air schools were recommended for nontubercular children as well. In Frankfurt, Germany, architects working under the leadership of Ernst May in the 1920s designed decentralized schools called Pavilionschule (pavilion schools) or Freiflachenschule (open air schools) with one-story wings disposed over large open sites to increase light and air circulation; the Niederursel School designed by Franz Schuster in 1928 may be the first of this type. Although there were some French pavilion schools (notably the open air school in Suresnes designed by Eugène Beaudouin and Marcel Lods), France retained a tradition of density, building multistory blocks with outdoor space provided on rooftop terraces.
In the post–World War II period, architects embraced prefabrication and modular planning as the best way to lower school construction costs in order to meet the acute demand for schools fueled by the baby boom. Educators, however, were equally drawn to the potential for providing spaces that could be quickly reconfigured for individualized or group instruction. The trend towards open planning developed rapidly in the 1960s and early 1970s. Half of all the schools built between 1967 and 1969 in the United States were open design, as were ten percent of all elementary schools in use in the United Kingdom in 1985. The Mt. Hope (New Jersey) Elementary School designed by Perkins and Will in 1971 displayed several characteristics of the type: a large floor plate, heavy reliance on fluorescent lighting, open classrooms on an upper level, moveable furnishing used as classroom partitions, and spatial continuity between classrooms and circulation space. Although such schools avoided the rigidity of conventional classrooms, they also sacrificed day light and direct access to the out-of-doors, while creating new noise and discipline problems.
The last two decades of the twentieth century were a reaction against the open plan school. The self-contained classroom returned, albeit with greater attention to providing a variety of seating arrangements. Irregular planning also reemerged in order to enhance natural lighting, improve access to the out-of-doors, and decrease noise levels. Finally, the child's reaction to the qualities of place reappeared as an issue of concern to architects.
The provision of children's space in public libraries was an American innovation that became widespread in the first two decades of the twentieth century, thanks in large part to the library-building campaign financed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Especially in the case of urban branches and small-town libraries, Carnegie-financed buildings devoted half their space to the use of children. The earliest children's rooms mimicked the arrangements of reading rooms for adults, with rectangular tables aligned in neat rows, a form intended to encourage orderly behavior in all parts of the library. By the 1910s, however, children's librarians (many of them women who had recently entered the profession) embraced progressive educational theories that emphasized fundamental differences between children and adults and between children of different ages. Thus, later children's rooms did not seek to create order, but used informal arrangements of circular tables, often sized specifically for children. A story-hour alcove, sometimes graced with a fire-place, was designed to allow the children's librarian to adopt a maternal role toward the children who sat at her feet.
This American innovation gradually spread to various parts of Europe. In Norway, children's reading rooms were opened at Oslo's Deichman Library in 1911 and at the public library in Bergen in 1918. Children's libraries were established in Paris and Brussels just after World War I by an American organization called the Book Committee on Children's Libraries. Both libraries were called L'Heure Joyeuse, and the Paris library was housed in a sunny room on the first floor of an existing stone building, where it remained until the 1970s. Although the practice of including separate reading rooms for children continued throughout the twentieth century, children's reading rooms lost much of their distinctive character in libraries designed after World War II, when open, flexible plans predominated. Postmodernism, however, reinstated the practice, as is evident in the San Juan Capistrano (California) Public Library designed by Michael Graves in the 1980s to include a separate story-hour room, which is round in plan, with built-in benches, walls painted with clouds, and bean-bag chairs in the shapes of animals.
Spaces for Health and Welfare
Facilities for parentless children–either orphaned or abandoned–are a product of the early modern period in Europe.
The Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, a foundling hospital designed by Filippo Brunelleschi begun in 1419, is perhaps the best known of these early orphanages; on the building's facade, a series of rondels of infants in swaddling clothes announce the building's function to passersby. While some of these early orphanages were established by religious orders (like the refuge for young girls set up in sixteenth-century Rome by the Confraternity of St. Catherine of the Ropemakers), others were state-financed institutions that housed a wider range of inmates and adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the children in their care. In Leipzig, between 1700 and 1704, the city council built a combination poorhouse, orphanage, insane asylum, and penitentiary dedicated to St. George. Although the council recognized a difference between the undeserving and the deserving poor (the latter being orphans, widows, and others who were unable to fend for themselves), this eighteenth-century building housed both. Thus, it had a steeple ("to honor God, and the best of this house") and a strongly fortified appearance (to convey the harsh treatment meted out to the undeserving).
A unique architectural feature of foundling hospitals is the tour (or wheel), an ingenious revolving door that allowed the anonymous delivery of babies to the warmth and protection of those who ran the institutions. Many babies and children were actually only temporary residents of orphanages. In large industrial centers like Montreal, Quebec, children were stationed there during hard times or sickness, and later retrieved by their parents and guardians when things improved. The orphanage thus had a fluid relationship with the working-class urban home.
In the nineteenth century, the orphanage was joined by the asylum or House of Refuge, a new institutional type that aimed at removing orphaned or neglected slum children from the chaos and immorality of urban life. Initially constructed with private funds, the earliest American examples were built in the early 1820s in New York and Philadelphia. The type continued to be popular through the 1850s. The buildings themselves sought to reinforce discipline and routine that were the hallmarks of these institutions. Although ostensibly built to protect children from the city, they often took in children whom reformers deemed as likely to become social problems.
Specialty hospitals for sick children were also first built in the nineteenth century. Before this time young patients were accommodated in general hospitals, or sometimes in hospitals designed for particular diseases, such as tuberculosis. The first hospital for children was the Hôpital des Enfants Malades in Paris in 1802. London's celebrated Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street opened in 1852. The first children's hospital in the United States opened in New York two years later. These Victorian hospitals relied heavily on domestic ideology to express their dual mission of medical science and moral amelioration, marked by pitched roofs, picturesque massing (or forms), the use of brick, and domestically scaled windows and doors. The idea behind the design of the buildings was to protect young patients from the harsh realities of the hospital environment by association with the comforts of the middle-class home.
After World War I, children's hospitals resembled other modern institutions, featuring up-to-date surgical facilities, outpatients' facilities, isolation wards, and facilities for the pasteurization of milk. In North America wealthy, paying patients were accommodated in luxurious private patients' pavilions that resembled hotels. Although the planning of most interwar health-care institutions showcased efficiency and modern business methods, the exteriors often drew on historical references. Pediatric health-care facilities after World War II, on the other hand, looked more like office buildings than traditional hospitals.
Finally, postmodern children's hospitals since about 1975 draw on imagery outside of medicine. Bright colors, ornamentation, human scale, and overt references to other building types–particularly the home, hotel, and shopping mall–are again deployed to comfort young patients.
For centuries, the street was the primary play space for European and American children. Children spent a great deal of unsupervised time away from both home and school, often establishing their own social structure. Boys' gangs had their own territory and often engaged in fierce battles with trespassers. This tendency for children to create their own rules for the use of public space continued among working-class children into the twentieth century; in New York's working-class neighborhoods, for instance, in the early years of the century, stoops and sidewalks were reserved for girls, who looked after babies and toddlers, while the center of the street "belonged" to older boys, who patrolled their turf and guarded against incursions by boys from other neighborhoods.
By about 1800, however, the upper middle class began to devote greater attention to child rearing, and so began to supervise the activities of their children more closely. Kept inside the house to play with toys (rather than with cohorts from a different class), upper middle-class children only ventured out onto the street on "walks" in the company of adults. Indeed, throughout the nineteenth century, middle-class observers became increasingly alarmed by the idea of children roaming the streets and ever more critical of working-class play, which was dominated by games of chance that might reinforce "the taste for unearned pleasures." While such concerns prompted the establishment of ragged schools and other institutions aimed at removing poor children from the street, they also gave impetus for the establishment of parks and playgrounds. Although largely ornamental in nature, the great urban parks of the nineteenth century often included play spaces for children. Queen's Park in Manchester, England (designed in 1849), included circular swings, a ball and shuttle-cock ground, skipping rope and swing grounds, another shuttle-cock ground, a quoit alley, a skittle alley, an archery ground, and a cricket ground (some of these activities may have been intended for adults as well).
Playgrounds designed specifically for the use of children were introduced gradually in the second half of the nineteenth century, with the first English example–the Burberry Street Recreation Ground in Birmingham–established in 1877. Most nineteenth-century English playgrounds were sponsored by private organizations, such as the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association (which opened four playgrounds in London between 1882 and 1886) or the Children's Happy Evenings Association (which opened six play centers in London by 1888 and a total of ninety-six centers by World War I). By the turn of the century, however, there was an international movement to establish playgrounds in small parks in working-class neighborhoods, often with municipal support. The London County Council, for instance, opened over one hundred acres of London School Board playgrounds for Saturday use in 1890. In the United States, settlement house workers played an important role in establishing neighborhood parks (like Pulaski Park in Chicago), and also inspired the activities of playground associations abroad (including the Playground Association of Queensland, which opened three supervised playgrounds in Brisbane, Australia, between 1913 and 1927). Established at least in part to guide working-class recreational practices, these parks emphasized formal designs, containing well-defined spaces that allowed the sorting of park users by gender and age, as well as their supervision by professional, middle-class play leaders. In the 1940s, as playground supervision dropped off, municipalities depended more heavily on manufactured play equipment that was both low maintenance and safe. Stripped of dangerous equipment (such as the teeter-totter), the standard playground was comprised of a paved surface, fence, sandpit, swings and jungle gym, although by the 1960s, free-form play sculptures in bright colors began to supplement standardized equipment.
Perhaps the most significant "public" spaces designed for young visitors in the twentieth century are the Disney parks: Disneyland (Anaheim, California, 1955), Walt Disney World (Orlando, Florida, 1971), Tokyo Disneyland (1983), and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris, 1992). Inspired by cartoon characters first developed by the Walt Disney Company, the parks are comprised of a series of fantasy landscapes with rides. A sophisticated system of pedestrian-only circulation, based on subtly miniaturized buildings, grants children a greater feeling of control than they might experience in real urban environments.
By the late nineteenth century, the idea that the city was inherently detrimental to a child's well-being led to the establishment of summer camps where children could escape the city altogether. While many early camps– colonies de vacances in France, health camps of New Zealand, Fresh Air camps in the United States–were philanthropic endeavors aimed at safeguarding the physical health of poor children, others catered to the sons (and later daughters) of middle-class or well-to-do families, focusing on religious instruction or more generic character-building. In the United States, many of these early camps were instituted in response to turn-of-the-century anxieties about the impact of the feminized home on the social and physical development of boys, and often imitated the physical trappings of the military encampment–tents, mess hall, parade ground–in order to reconnect boys with the world of men. Although permanent buildings became more popular at American camps by the late 1930s, they retained a rustic flavor, while picturesque planning principles were introduced to disguise the extent of human intervention in the shaping of the camp landscape. In the post–World War II period, camps for children with special needs became increasingly common, as did skill-based camps teaching foreign languages, music, and computer programming. At the end of the twentieth century, however, the traditional, rustic, character-building summer camp enjoyed renewed popularity.
In studying the spaces and material culture of children from any culture or time period it is important to balance prescriptive and descriptive sources, because much of what we know about children of the past is solely from an adult point of view. Like toys and books, the spaces associated with childhood rarely record children's voices or perspectives. Diaries, letters, photographs, drawings, and other documents may provide important supplemental information on children's real spatial experiences.
See also: Education, Europe; Education, United States; Montessori, Maria; Playground Movement; Progressive Education; Sandbox; School Buildings and Architecture; Street Games; Theme Parks; Zoos .
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"Children's Spaces." Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/childrens-spaces
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