The Montessori Training Center & Elementary Lab School
3854 Washington Blvd.
St.Louis, MO 63108
This is the little school that could. What started as a center to train adults to be Montessori teachers (or “guides” in the Montessori parlance), the Montessori Training Center + Elementary Lab School at Grand Center added the Children’s House to teach children ages 3-6, The Young Children’s Community for ages 15 months through 3 years, and — most recently — an elementary school next door. Just steps away is St. Louis’ first Montessori “high school”, the Montessori Adolescent Program. On this nondescript section of Washington Boulevard, your children can receive a Montessori education from toddler all the way through high school.
We started working with the MTC in late 2016 when they purchased the building next door to house the new elementary school. In addition to cleaning up the interior and exterior of that newly-acquired building, the MTC wanted a parking lot, dropoff/pickup driveway, and an open-air element that would connect the two buildings in the rear courtyard. To remedy the parking situation, the school purchased a building to the east, and it was demoed to give space for the parking lot and dropoff lane. In the back of the existing primary school, our team proposed removing the existing deck, and replacing it with a new one that would connect it to the new elementary building, all covered by a new canopy. The Elementary’s east façade of new windows is surrounded in the same cumaru — Brazilian teak — as the new deck, which provides a warm welcome to children every morning. The new canopy supports are painted the school’s cheerful signature blue.
The elementary school used to be a sorority headquarters: offices in front, and a large open space in the back for special events. The school wanted to keep the open floorplan for intra-school gatherings and training activities in the summer. The offices in front were maintained and given a fresh coat of paint and new carpet. For both the primary school and elementary school, children attend during the school year, but over the summer, the schools are filled with adults learning how to be teachers. Because of this, both schools feature “model classroom” space for the adult students. (The “Lab” designation in the school’s name means the school operates by the book and under the best practices of the training center.) To divide this large expanse of the elementary school, designers used the floor to designate different spaces. A colorful path of striped carpet tile creates a space that serves as both circulation and demarcation between different functions: cooking/dining, training, classroom.
The Montessori aesethetic is a simple one: calming colors and textures to create a distraction-free environment. No cartoon characters, bright colors, or busy patterns. Children use natural materials in the classroom: wood, glass, metal, fabric, and almost never plastic. We strove to honor this as much as possible in the new interior. Much of the classroom space is surrounded by maple shelves, and since children and teachers often work on the floor, we selected a budget-friendly neutral carpet tile. The drop ceiling was removed, and the ceiling was painted white to create an open and airy space. This was for design and education: now the children can see how the building has been built, along with the infrastructure that goes along with it: HVAC, fire suppression, and electrical. The new windows on the back of the building provide loads of natural light in the classroom, and strategic pops of branded colors anchor the walls in the classroom and training area. The old catering kitchen was replaced with a modern residential-style kitchen where children can reheat lunches and entertain during special events.
The final touch on the schools was the exterior paint. We developed a new exterior palette of cumaru wood, blue, and gray to visually connect the primary school and the elementary school. Now both buildings feel like one amazing school.