Once you enter the quadrangle of the newly-designed OB Montessori Center in San Juan, you are transported back to your childhood. A vast bright green space—surrounded by seemingly sky-high tiers, defining each floor of the school building—greets you. This is where you used to play habulan, piko, luksong tinik, jump rope, and Chinese jackstones. It brings you back to the days of your youth, with one exception: the vivid colors and the outstanding lines. And with each fancily-painted classroom, each fish tank, and even the long line of small make-believe mops, you are taken back to a time long ago—except everything is designed for play and learning in such a way that you haven’t experienced before.
There are lightning rods on the walls to remind you of Nikola Tesla, desks coated in yellow and grey paint instead of the usual brown wood, walls laden with bright molecular structures of DNA, and festive lampshades. Motifs in the senior high school classroom mark three figures in Philippine contemporary art: Roberto Chabet, Leo Valledor, and Nena Saguil. In the junior high school classrooms, there are furniture, industrial design, architecture, and even fashion icons—in the form of a painted-on-the-wall terno. Other images include jeepneys, Zaha Hadid’s architecture, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and a sorbetes cart. The primary school classrooms bear inspiring bursts of color that remind you of sunshine and the fresh greenery of play-filled outdoors.
The brainchild of OB Montessori’s COO and president Sara Soliven-de Guzman and Nazareno/Lichauco’s Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco, the school’s sensory and artistic details leave nothing to the imagination. They conceptualized and built everything you could ever desire in design for an educational environment. “Sara had a vision for the school, and we went with that. She wanted to continue to elevate Philippine education while adhering to the Montessori method,” said Gabby.
“And while doing what Gabby mentioned, Sara also gave us the freedom to express and translate her vision,” Rita said. “For Gabby and me, as creative people, we wanted to infuse things we wish we had when we were studying ourselves. Someone mentioned that our work at OB Montessori is ‘proof of what amazing things can be achieved when creativity is given the space to flow.’ I thought that was spot-on.”
Rita Nazareno: ‘For Gabby and me, as creative people, we wanted to infuse things we wish we had when we were studying ourselves’
“We first discuss the project and visualize what we want to do, what we want to accomplish, and we go from there. We somehow affirm each other’s ideas,” said Gabby. “The process is quite random, and we throw ideas at each other,” added Rita. “More often than not, someone makes a completely humorous crack about it. I think that one of the best things about working with Gabby is we appreciate each other’s distinct sense of humor.”
According to Rita, she and Gabby put themselves in the shoes of the children and considered what they would have wanted at that age. “We had to consider the kids’ needs and inclinations from a very young age to near adulthood. That’s a large span. How the kids and teachers engage with the space is another thing we had to examine,” said Gabby.
The duo is known for trying to push a more contemporary thrust in Philippine traditional crafts, materials, and techniques. It is evident in OB Montessori’s new look, from top to bottom. Rita summed it up: “Eckhart Tolle said there’s a sense of completeness when one realizes that ‘There is a playful, joyous energy behind what you do.’ For me, that’s an aim: to have a positive, playful energy behind what I do and who I spend time with.” She and Soliven-de Guzman have been friends since college and decided to take the leap to redesign the school during the pandemic.
“How do you design a creative environment?” we asked. Gabby said, “It depends on a client’s needs, but as much possible….,” then Rita finished: “…The space will spark people’s imagination.”
If you were never really inspired by your childhood campus’ design, with OB Montessori’s new look you’ll not only want to go back to school, you’ll want to do so here.