Magnolia Montessori For All
Award of Design Excellence
Magnolia Montessori For All (MMFA) is the first public Montessori school in Austin, Texas, located in the historically disadvantaged and underserved communities in East Austin. Focused on a “whole child” education, the school works to cultivate creativity, innovation and leadership skills within a racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse community.
In place of the traditional single school building, the design team conceived a village with classroom buildings reading as houses, so the school would feel like a second home to its 500 pre-K-6th grade students. Crisp cottage-like building clusters tuck into the gentle slope of the site. The scale, proportion and materiality of the buildings echo that of the nearby residential neighborhood, which creates harmony between the new school and its context, and helps it belong to the community.
Each building cluster encircles a central courtyard where students from its respective learning community can play or engage in outdoor learning with their peers. The three clusters—Children’s House (pre-K-Kindergarten), Lower Elementary (grades 1-3), and Upper Elementary (grades 4-6)—are accessed via a common walkway that serves as the village “main street” that navigates the more than 30 feet of grade change across the site.
"Simple modern approach of exterior, yet the interior spaces are inspiring and soaring with daylight." ~ Jury comment
Three classroom modules create the building clusters with the same six spatial components—entry porch, group spaces, cubbies, restrooms, storage and back porch. While exhibiting a degree of modularity, no two classrooms are exactly the same as each responds to it siting and solar orientation. Carefully articulated classrooms support students’ independent and self-directed learning.
The building footprint responds to the spatial implications of Montessori education, which arranges work places thematically around the room with work tables, open areas and rugs for activities. While classrooms share many features, each developmental stage has unique activities, objectives and milestones which the design team addressed through specific design details. For example, a significant learning objective for students in the Children’s House is to develop physical independence. Consequently, the bathrooms in the Children’s House feature Dutch doors, so that students have privacy but can be supervised and assisted by their teachers if necessary. Similarly, the ceilings in the Children’s House are one foot lower than those in the Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms, which creates a more intimate environment for their small bodies.
Shared amenities are located at the heart of the campus to allow all grade levels easy accessibility. A multi-purpose room hosts youngest student napping, the afterschool program, teacher trainings and community events. The adjacent outdoor pavilion with built-in seating and pitched roof provides flexible and sheltered outdoor gathering space for recreation or assemblies. Across the way from the outdoor pavilion is the student services building.
The success for Magnolia Montessori For All is demonstrated by the more than 600 families on its admissions wait list and plans to expand into new geographies. Additionally, the East Austin school has propagated change beyond its own students and families to the broader community in Austin, as Austin Independent School District launched a public Montessori program in an under-enrolled elementary school in August 2017 following MMFA’s example.