OB Montessori sports new look to welcome students back 2
COO Sara Soliven insisted on a Filipino but contemporary design. Right: the school building is given new life by a splash of colors. Photographs courtesy of Rita Nazareno
Culture

IN PHOTOS: 56-year-old OB Montessori sports bold new look to welcome students back

The school tapped the services of designers Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco to give the school that fresh coat of excitement
ANCX Staff | Oct 08 2022

The students of OB Montessori’s five campuses got an awesome surprise recently when they returned to their respective schools after two years of online classes. The neutral-colored, traditional classrooms they last saw back in early 2020 have been given a makeover: the walls have been painted bright colors and dotted with shapes of animals, jeepneys, a Darth Vader head here, a Batibot chair there, among many others. 

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What greeted the returning OB Montessori students at resumption of face to face classes.  
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The senior classrooms celebrate the genius of Filipino artists.
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Color plays a big part in this visual revamp.

The cafeterias, too, have undergone a sprucing up, as well as the school lobbies and campus facade. Some of the offices now have the colorful drip paintings of OB alumni MM Yu on their walls, and at the COO’s office, a table by Miguel Rosales, another OB Montessori graduate, holds pride of place. 

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Alumni MM Yu’s paintings adorn an office wall.
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The three important Filipino artists that inspired the senior classrooms are Roberto Chabet, Nena Saguil and Leo Valledor.

For Sara Soliven, who is the COO of the institution, and daughter of founder Preciosa Soliven, change was inevitable having come from an unprecedented moment in OB Montessori’s 56-year old history. She looked at her campuses and knew something had to be done. “Ang lungkot naman ng school, babalik yung mga bata [sa] malungkot,” she tells ANCX. “Pag hindi ka pumasok sa isang bahay ng napakatagal, wala yung spirit, walang energy. We needed to prepare for the coming of students.” 

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The bold colors of the primary classrooms.

So she tapped the expertise and creative minds of the design duo of Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco to give OB a little visual shakeup. Gabby’s background is in industrial design, while Rita is creative director of Zacarias 1925, the brand of handwoven bags and home accessories founded by her grandmother close to a century ago. 

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The jeepney and the Darth Vader head appear at the junior high classrooms.

Soliven has been familiar with the duo’s work. There’s a childlike wonder in many of the pieces that they do. They know purposeful design and knows, too, when it’s time to have fun. It doesn’t hurt that both also dabble in teaching, and are therefore familiar with the needs of the modern campus. “I needed the Rita-Gab energy for the school,” says Sara on why she tapped the two. “I can’t have traditional, classical energy; I need contemporary, upbeat energy.”

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The Batibot chair and an Eames chair share a wall at the junior high classrooms.

Which is exactly what she got. For the classrooms, Rita and Gab developed a different concept for each grade, following the stages of children’s intellectual advancement. For its preschool classrooms, the focus is on basic shapes and natural forms (trees, the sun), followed by the more complex forms found in the biosphere (water, air, earth) for the primary classrooms. 

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Elements of the biosphere adorn the primary classrooms.

The intermediate classrooms meanwhile are surrounded by figures of inventions by beloved scientists—from the physicist Nikolas Tesla to Letitia Mumford Geer, famous for inventing the medical syringe able to function with the force of a single hand. Images of Zaha Hadid’s architecture, iconic Eames furniture, and the Philippine jeepney fill the junior classrooms, while each of the three senior classrooms was inspired by an esteemed Filipino artist: one by Roberto Chabet, Father of Philippine conceptual art; another by the great abstract painter Nena Saguil; and the third by Leo Valledor, the Filipino-American artist who leaned towards minimalism in his work. 

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The cafeteria was also part of the campus makeover.

For Rita, it was important to highlight the contributions of women and people of color in the overall vision for their design, and is only thankful that Sara, a schoolmate back in college, was open to “the sensitivities of the times.” 

For Gabby, the icons of culture, science and history they placed on the walls are a great way to jumpstart a child’s imagination. “Where does creativity start? Best to start at a young age. How can they be imaginative when they don’t see anything? You have to assist these kids for their imagination to grow.” 

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Wall bound accessories designed by Nazareno and Lichauco make for additional playful touches.

Sara refuses to call the revamp a “renovation”; for her it’s just a changing of the vibe and the spirit of the OB surroundings. She had to personally deal with the changes herself. “I went thru all my withdrawal symptoms,” she says of seeing her beloved schools with the new look. “Change is also hard. (But) Kids are more resilient to change.” 

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A Ninoy Aquino bust stands on a colored pedestal in this open air area.

And she knew exactly what she was up against: games, an infinite amount of YouTube distractions, and social media. She wanted to get her students excited about going back to the classroom. “Coming from two years of looking at very colorful, action-packed monitors, and then you’re gonna enter a bland school? What if they say, ‘Mama, I prefer online na lang than face to face’?” 

But she couldn’t be happier that her gesture of reimagining the school for the children was greatly appreciated. She saw the delight in the students’ faces when Rita and Gabby paid the Greenhills school a visit recently. “This classroom makes me happy,” one kid said. “This classroom gives me a vibe—a happy vibe.” 

Photographs courtesy of Rita Nazareno