The Bulletin

Shared Values: Architecture and the Waldorf Experience

Wednesday, May 2014

A parent perspective by Mark Miller, CWS Parent

My wife, Anne Cousineau, and I had been living in Rogers Park since 1995. Part of our decision to raise a family here (Zoe, eighth grade and Eli, fifth grade) was the connection to nature the nearby beach, parks and lake provided. This encouraged balance in our lives.

When it came time to select a school, CWS resonated with us immediately for its approach, and understanding of the value of balance, nature and spirit. It has been a large blessing in our lives.

An unexpected blessing from being in this community is that I have been asked by many CWS families and the school itself to assist them professionally with my skills as an architect. For those of you who don’t know me, you will recognize my work from the barn play structure in the side yard and the theatrical sets for many school plays including the recent eighth grade play Oliver Twist in which Anne spearheaded the set and production design. For me, it is a pleasure collaborating with Waldorf families, as we share similar values. It’s fun to work as a team with like-minded people to create architectural works where these values are reflected. It’s clear from the feedback the spaces we create together are enjoyed and enrich the lives of those who experience them on many levels.

Appreciation of nature, a Waldorf cornerstone, resonated in the recent completion of a renovation for the CWS Boyce family. They moved from an all glass mid-rise building with connections to sun, the lake and Lincoln Park to a 100-year-old Victorian home in Evanston. To help “open up” the home and reconnect to these elements, we completely removed the rear wall and added an all-glass English conservatory which transitioned to a semi-circular deck and the garden.

These values informed the new home I designed for EC teacher Ms. Nancy Matson, her husband Alan and their family, who have an amazing site overlooking the Chicago River and Cook County Forest Preserve. I like to ask my clients what about their current residence really annoys them (what is “blocking” them from connecting with spirit.) Nancy shared she disliked the dark stairwell that lead up to the second floor. So, one important goal was to provide the family a staircase that would remedy this. The new stair became an “open riser,” allowing one to see through it. The stair, placed next to a two-story window wall, faces the sun and forest. Now, from any spot in the home, one is connected to the sun and the forest. Views of the wildlife, treetops and flowing river are integrated throughout the experience of “being” in the home.

Two additional collaborations have come from assisting CWS moms Jenn Paschen and Bridgid Rooney in their work: places of healing. Jenn is the owner of “The Nest” acupuncture and prenatal health center and Bridgid Rooney owns Lakeview Physical Therapy. For Jenn, health is related to an unobstructed flow of energy in the body. I designed her new center to make this flow of healing energy more apparent to visitors, using curving shapes in her bamboo floors and treatment room walls. Natural materials and Japanese shoji screens made new visitors feel at ease, and so healing can begin as soon as a client walks into the center. In this context, the architectural design assists the philosophy of the practitioner, just as the collaboration with Bridgid Rooney incorporated her views of healing.

Like Waldorf education, when we infuse values of awareness, spirit and an appreciation of nature to architecture, we enrich the physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual experiences for our whole being. --

More of Mark's architecture for Waldorf families can be see at his website, ZenPlusArchitecture.