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Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel


Friedrich Wilhelm August Fröbel [1782-1852] is hardly a household word these days. Yet he may become more familiar as we approach the year 2030. For it was in that fortuitous year that Fröbel (or Froebel) invented kindergarten.

Fannie Kachline, Paper Folding, kindergarten exercise ca1890, from the collections of the Museum of Modern Art (gift of Norman Brosterman)

Perhaps it’s the realization that I was deprived in childhood of kindergarten as a foundation for my worldview, but certainly since my late teenage years and through my undergraduate education in architecture I’ve come to understand the enormous contribution Fröbel has made to the world of design. To my recollection, limited as that may be, my earliest reference to the German educator was his influence on Frank Lloyd Wright — whose birth in 1867 was a full fifteen years after Fröbel’s death. And as a Chicago native and someone who hung out in Oak Park by the age of twelve, his influence on the young Wright was no surprise: it’s evident in Unity Temple, the first Wright building I recall seeing, possibly when I was eight years old and shopping with my mother. A recent book, Inventing Kindergarten by Norman Brosterman, opened my eyes to the much more pervasive influence Fröbel had had on late 19th century art and design, including many figures connected with the Bauhaus and deStijl movements and even the Swiss-French architect LeCorbusier. Who knew? It’s nothing that appears prominently in books about Corbu — at least those in English.

So, my point here is simply that the bi-centennial of Fröbel’s invention is creeping upon us. If I can last just eight more years, it will be my purpose to assure that any architecture students within reach of my influence will not remain ignorant of the event.

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