Apr 27, 2011

The architecturally designed Myers Kindergarten in Auckland, New Zealand 1913-16

   

Picture of Myers Kindergarten, taken after 1916 from the National Library Archive.


Picture of Myers Kindergarten, taken in 2010 picture from Flickr.

Myers Park, located in central Auckland city opened in 1915 as an early, influential, and significant urban renewal project and was also where a kindergarten and playground were built. The Myers Kindergarten was the Auckland Kindergarten Association’s fourth facility, but soon became its “showpiece”, as it was centrally located, architecturally designed, purpose built and a landmark within Myers Park. Anene Cusins-Lewer and Julia Gatley wrote a chapter The “Myers Park Experiment” in the book: Designing Modern Childhoods and suggests that the Myers park site reflects the desires at this time to shape, mold, and improve both the urban environment and the young citizens using the facilities through the use of urban design and architecture; in the moral conditioning of children, thus society.



Arthur Myers, a successful businessman and former mayor of Auckland agreed to fund the project to be named Myers Park, as well as initiated and funded the construction of the Myers Kindergarten and the children’s playground within the park. Additional laws for the protection of children were introduced, and the idea that the physical health of children was a state investment became widely accepted. This meant therefore a shift in the perception if children from family “chattels” or parental possessions to “social capital.” (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)

Martha Myers (Arthur’s American sister-in-law) set up the Auckland Kindergarten Association in 1908, which framed the child as materially plastic, a moldable entity. In the 1909 campaign for Auckland’s free kindergarten, Martha claimed:

‘the children’s futures must me molded in their plastic youthfulness. By the provision of instructive toys and deployment of an appreciation of flowers and colours, training in melody and numerous other ways the children are made useful and intelligent, truthful, moral, decent and self-respecting. It is the young child placed in the sunshine of its proper environment. Auckland is a growing city with many neglected children whose school is the street and whose playground is the gutter. It is for these children that we want free kindergartens.’ (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)


Consistent with the Froebelian foundations of the Myers Kindergarten programme, this photo shows the young children engaged with the coloured building blocks of the Froebel Gifts. (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)


Photo from Designing Modern Childhoods, p.90. Women staffed the kindergarten, taking aspects of child-rearing out of the home and into the public realm.(Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)


Picture of Crowd gathered outside the Myers Kindergarten building, Myers Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Photographed by an unknown photographer in 1951, from the National Library Archive.

The children’s learning experiences were enhanced through outdoor play, with a focus was on inspiring a mode of discipline and self-control by means of “organised play.” Activities, including sports, were seen as significant in the physical and psychological development of the child to “enlarge their imagination, have healthy impulses, with a desire to excel, a spirit of wanting to win.” (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)

The playground was deemed important for improving a sense of community, “it becomes the nursery in which good citizenship is cultivated.” (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)

The Architecture

Picture of Myers Kindergarten, taken after 1916 from the National Library Archive.





Plans and elevations of the kindergarten building designed by Chitwell and Trevethick, dated May 1915. Image from Designing Modern Childhoods p.94.

The architecture of the kindergarten was described as “an ornament to the city”, with views across the playground, extending to the city and harbour beyond. Set back from the street, it was consistent with the desire to remove children from street life. Formal spatial planning and detail: the splayed plan, segregation of functional units, isolation of ablution blocks, recessed balconies, gabled wings, and the use of red brick in conjunction with cement render, the name, “Myers Kindergarten,” is boldly inscribed on exterior wall surfaces. Bulky columns and beams allowed for voluminous internal spaces. These were ventilated by top hung windows and large bi-folding external doors. The north-facing part of the building allowed for much sun into the interior. These architectural solutions were in line with the design of therapeutic environments (with fresh air and sunshine). (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)



In plan, the kindergarten comprised a large “circle room” girdled by three classrooms, a covered veranda equipped with a sandpit, and a director’s room. The “circle room” was an important feature of the Froebelian programme intended to facilitate the gathering of children in circle formation for group activities.

The spatial planning physically fortified the abstract utopian principle of a harmoniously structured social environment.

As with the Froebelian “gifts,” the interior fixtures and fittings were intended to stimulate “self-instruction” among the children – the hardware fittings and moveable furniture were intended to help children become self-sufficient in their immediate environment.

The metaphor of the child, growing like a plant is seen in the design of the kindergarten with the use of a green and white colour scheme, window plant boxes, externally the colours and textures of the kindergarten building were continued into the park’s pathway surfaces, and flowerbeds were planted at the front of the building.

New Zealand Building Progress describes the building as: “beautifully situated on a rising portion of the ground in the park surrounded by grassy slopes, shrubs and foliage, giving a picturesque effect, which must bear a wholesome influence on the minds of the children…and here the little ones are taken from the playground of the street and taught to live the beautiful.”

The “Myers Park Experiment” is a socially and historically specific exemplar of an Early Childhood Education site where urban; landscape, and architectural design, underpinned by notions of beauty, health and efficiency were deployed at varying scales for shaping and molding the physical condition and moral character of children. (Cusins-Lewer & Gatley, 2008)

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