The Home of Happy Orphanhood
Photo by Nationaal Archief/Collectie Spaarnestad/Louis van Paridon

The Home of Happy Orphanhood

An Orphanage in Amsterdam
Zygmunt Borawski
time 8 minutes

“What I expect of you, sir? Perhaps I should rather tell you what I don’t,” said the headmaster to the architect. “I do not want a large, oppressive building, whose size and form would make children feel locked up and separated from the world. I wish for the exact opposite!”

The word ‘orphan’ evokes sympathy. ‘Orphanage’ and ‘group home’ ring even sadder in our ears, as our imagination conjures visions of a big gloomy house with long, dark corridors and dull, institutionalized discipline. However, there are some exceptions. In mid-20th century Amsterdam, two visionaries – progressive educational psychologist Frans van Meurs and unconventional architect Aldo van Eyck – created a home for children that was revolutionary in its difference from the orphanages that came before it. Both gentlemen believed that nobody deserved a careless and happy life as much as children did, and they decided it was necessary to do everything in their might to create such an environment for the young ones.

The wisdom and principles embedded in the building’s structure forever secured its place in the chronicles of world architecture, but also made it clear that design for children requires us grown-ups to approach the whole process differently. But let’s start from the beginning.

From a playground…

In Dutch culture, children appeared as an artistic motif as early as in the 16th century. Great painters portrayed their games and pastimes, but also included little ones in


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