The School Museum | Historic school furniture

Cultural history of the school

Prof. Thomas Müller, VS’s Executive Director, talks in an interview about the concept of the VS School Museum. Here for the first time, the history of school furniture and architecture has been put in context with different educational aspirations. School is presented and brought to life as part of our cultural history through a number of original and impressive historic exhibits.

Cultural history of the school

Prof. Thomas Müller, VS’s Executive Director, talks in an interview about the concept of the VS School Museum. Here for the first time, the history of school furniture and architecture has been put in context with different educational aspirations. School is presented and brought to life as part of our cultural history through a number of original and impressive historic exhibits.

Saying goodbye to military barracks – school reform around 1900

At the turn of the last century what was known as the Life Reform Movement began to spread. Repercussions were also felt in architecture and the construction of schools for at the heart of the movement was the reform of everyday life. Under its influence, schools evolved that were disassociating themselves from the earlier type of military and monastery school. Theodor Fischer, an elementary and vocational school, Elisabethplatz in München-Schwabing, 1901.

around 1890

Two-seater American school bench: The desk is equipped with folding seats; the seated pupil uses the writing desk in the row in front of him.



The most successful German school benches type ever – the Rettig bench. The heightened footrest made getting into and out of the school bench much simpler and saved space. P. Johannes Müller, one of VS’s associated companies, was the patent holder.


Getting in and out

The basic idea of the Rettig bench: The heightened footrest made stepping into and out of the bench easier. It was also economical on space allowing narrower gaps between benches.


Saying goodbye to the military barracks

Rettig bench offering more freedom

Special shape of the Rettig bench: This model was for handicraft lessons with a desk top that folded upwards allowing the arms more freedom of movement.


The Rettig bench has tilt mechanism so that the benches could be simply and easily laid on their sides for floor cleaning.



Holistically equipped classroom with Rettig benches developed by Richard Riemerschmid in collaboration with P. Johannes Müller.



School designed by Mackintosh, famous Jugenstil architect in Glasgow. The elaborately designed main façade with glazed stair towers offered separate entrances for boys and girls. The schoolyard was also gender segregated.

Reform School

The aim of the Reform School was not only to teach theoretical knowledge but also skills of a practical and artisanal nature. Food education in a Berlin parish school around 1908.

Saying goodbye to the military barracks

Discipline and orderliness in the classroom

The Rettig bench supported discipline in the classroom. This retouched advertising photo from P. Johannes Müller shows the kind of classroom orderliness typical for the time.


A German model classroom, designed by interior architect Bruno Paul and P. Johannes Müller, the furniture manufacturer. It was presented at the 1910 World’s Fair in Brussels and won an award.

Classroom cupboard

Handcrafted classroom cupboard by Richard Riemerschmid, presented at the 1910 World’s Fair in Brussels

Saying goodbye to the military barracks

Integrated Reform classroom

Art room with Albis drawing boards and bent-wood chairs at the 1910 World’s Fair in Brussels, designed by VS’s associate, P. Johannes Müller and Bruno Paul.


Pupil self-fulfillment through activity was an important educational principle in the Reform Movement: pupils in a Berlin parish school during an outdoor botany class.

Teacher’s desk

Symbol of the unassailable authority of the teacher at the beginning of the 20th century: the raised teacher’s desk.

Waldorf School

First Waldorf School, Uhlandshöhe, Stuttgart, founded 1919. View of the main house built in 1924: anthroposophical design avoiding right-angles; the quest is for organic forms.

Light, air and sun – the 1920s to the 1930s

School reform movements during the Weimar Republic in the 1920s and 1930s, including those in architecture, tried to implement new construction solutions based on modern urban development principles. With the support of progressively minded politicians and building officials there arose some crisp examples of school buildings in the style of the New Objectivity.


Architecturally oriented to the principles of the New Objectivity: by Otto Haesler, School in Altstadt with head teacher’s residence, Celle.


Dorotheen-Lyceum School in Berlin-Köpenick: The school building from Max Taut with its clear, geometric areas, spacious glazing and mostly rectangular structure is wholly consistent with the New Objectivity.

Natural sciences

Unusually for a girls’ school in the 1920s - the Dorotheen-Lyceum School in Berlin-Köpenick offered specialized and very well equipped natural sciences classrooms.


The gym of the Dorotheen-Lyceum was also very up-to-date.

Lessons outdoors

At the Dorotheen-Lyceum areas on the roof of the gym and biology rooms for open-air gym lessons.

around 1935

A school bench by Jean Prouvé manufactured in vast numbers right up till the 1950s: Constructed with double-butted sheet steel parts, tubular steel and a solid wood table top.

Child-centered education – international progress up till 1945

With the coming to power of the National Socialists in 1933 endeavors to create schools reforms based on democratic ideas came to an abrupt end. But globally the movement continued. Education seen as “coming from the child” shifted the focus to single-story pavilions with quick and easy access to outdoor lessons. School in Irwinville, Georgia (USA), 1938.

around 1935

A school bench by Jean Prouvé manufactured in vast numbers right up till the 1950s: Constructed with double-butted sheet steel parts, tubular steel and a solid wood table top.


Bruderholz Elementary School in Basle by Hermann Baur: A pavilion-system style school, the classrooms offered unobstructed views of the countryside and direct access to the outdoors. Furniture was arranged according to the learning situation.

Access to schoolyard

Bruderholz Elementary School, Basle: The well-lit classroom enabled variable arrangements of school furniture, in the yard in front of the school room pupils could take lessons in the open air.


Crow Island School in Winnetka, Illinois (USA): The site was developed by Eero + Eliel Saarinen and Perkins, Wheeler & Will from L-shaped units with spacious classroom, a smaller work room and access to the schoolyard.

Child-centered education

Workroom for free project work

Crow Island School: workroom attached to the classroom for project work alone or in twos.


Crow Island School: Window sills, shelves, display cabinets etc. are fitted to be within comfortable reach of children.

Pupil workplace

Crow Island School: Seat and backrest were made for the first time from one sheet of bent plywood.

Open air school

French Reconstruction planning for Mainz, 1946-1948: Marcel Lods, who amongst other things co-designed the famous open-air school in Suresnes (France) in the 1930s, pushed for an alternative to cheerless traditional schools.

Dawn of a new era – school after World War II

Around 1950 hope for a new start was reflected in schools construction. The open-air classroom became once again a symbol of liberation. For financial reasons however it was soon the more compact school building that was winning out, of which many incorporated Reform Movement principles. A fundamental reorientation of the school system experienced set-backs over and over again. Goethe School in Kiel by Rudolf Schroeder, 1948-1950.


Pupil workplace with aluminum frame by James Leonard: Table and chair are stackable, seat and backrest formed out of plywood.


In Great Britain in the course of defense conversion, school pavilions and pupil chairs and tables were produced from die-cast aluminum parts. Transport to France of school prefab components.

around 1948

Pavilion school, reinterpreted by Arne Jacobsen (1948-1957): Munkegård School in Gentofte (Denmark), classrooms with schoolyards in front, structures for subject-specific and specialist rooms.

Dawn of a new era

Creative work in the classroom

The Goethe School in Kiel adopted the idea of the one-story pavilion system in order to provide plenty of light, air and sun. Creative work in the classroom.

Access to the schoolyard

For every classroom pavilion at the Goethe School there was a yard. In good weather lessons took place outside. Partitions provided shelter from wind and optical and acoustic interference.

In the open air

Goethe School: lessons by the sandpit. Opaque glass walls partition classroom pavilion yards.


Pupil’s workplace for Munkegård School in Gentofte by Arne Jacobsen. The chair is based on Jacobsen’s famous ant chair; table top and book tray are bent from one piece.


Finnish architect and furniture designer Alvar Aalto’s school furniture. Table with inclinable table top from the 1950s, Aalto had designed the table already in the 1930s.

End of the school bench

Skid chair with skid table by Karl Nothhelfer. There was political motivation involved in the end of school bench production at the end of World War II – it represented a turning away from the Prussian military style of raising children. Skid chair and table saved space and were stable, ergonomic and functional.


Dawn of a new era

Movable skid chair instead of fixed school bench

The new skid chairs were light enough for children to move them themselves.

from 1950

Chair by Karl Nothhelfer, VS patent: Although the very successful skid chair manufactured in its millions was of light construction, it was extremely stable – as the advertising photo from the time clearly shows.



Hans Sharoun: Design for an elementary school in Darmstadt. Sharoun’s design is still today a model for child-friendly school architecture.

Group tuition

Group tuition with swivel chairs, 1954: Pupils sit in a relaxed arrangement. The tubular steel furniture is by VS.


Dawn of a new era

Der Pauker [film 1958] – freedom of movement with steel skid furniture

Axel von Ambesser, Der Pauker, 1958, with Heinz Rühmann. The classroom is equipped with steel skid furniture.


Brussels World’s Fair, the German pavilion was devoted to the topic of educating children. School tables were presented in combination with tubular steel swivel chairs, design by Falk Müller.

Swivel chair

Pupils’ swivel chair designed by VS associate Falk Müller. The chair was shown in Brussels in 1958 and at the Milan XII Triennale in 1960.


around 1958

Single-seat pupil workplace by American company, Heywood & Wakefield. Seats and rests were made from pressed wood shavings in a patented process.


School chairs from American company, Brunswick, around 1958. The seat rest shells were made from fiberglass strengthened plastic, frame of tubular steel.

Equal opportunities – aspirations of the 1960s/1970s

During this boom period for schools construction and educational reforms, the integrated high school was a new type of school in Germany. The idea was to promote equal opportunities for children and young people from all social classes. To that end, the integrated high school was established as a nod to the educational-political upheavals post 1968. Publicly it was never widely accepted and was seen as a “bureaucratic learning factory”. Mümmelmannsberg High School, Hamburg.

around 1965

Indebted to the reinvigorated New Objectivity: C-shaped table in rectangular tubular steel and bent plywood to accommodate the school bag.

LIGNOdur-table top

1965 VS developed the extremely robust LIGNOdur school table top with melamine resin surface, a recycling product made from wood processing shavings. The skid chairs that can be put up on the tables are from the second, lighter and slimmer design generation.


Equal opportunities

Integrated high school – technology driven school building

The architectural realization of the integrated high school idea often resulted in inhospitable, technology driven school buildings. Recess at Weinheim Integrated High School.

around 1970

School in the GDR: double workplace for pupils, furniture design slim, clinical and functional.

School in the GDR

Schoolyard enrollment celebration

Equal opportunities

Group work oriented classroom furnishing with C-shaped tables

Classroom furniture with C-shaped tables and swivel chairs in rectangular tubular steel. The tables in this advertising photo are arranged in a U-shape typical of the time.

around 1972

The elementary and secondary school by Hans Sharoun in Marl/Westphalia is in a honeycomb-shaped arrangement. Single story classroom units grouped around a raised aula which is the organic center of the complex.


Schäfersfeld schools campus in Lorch, Behnisch & Partner. The secondary school was the first building in the complex; large glass windows and awnings jutting outwards shape the exterior façade.

Equality of opportunity

Open entrance, meeting and assembly area

Secondary school hall as entrance area, meeting and assembly place: Classrooms are arranged around this center point.


Two-story school center in Kronberg/Taunus (Architects Fesel, von Törne): On the first floor are the specialist classrooms, the general tuition area on the second floor.

Aldo Rossi, 1972-1976

Model of the Salvatore-Orrù elementary school in Fagnano Olona/Italy: For this complex Aldo Rossi created stylized urban elements reduced to geometric bodies.

In praise of diversity – the school today

Contemporary school architecture today no longer allows itself to be reduced to uniform criteria and predominating trends. More and more new, variable designs and spatial concepts are emerging to shape the school situation in a diversified and inspiring way. However, in view of declining pupil numbers, fewer schools are being built. But rebuilding and renovation projects offer opportunities to create educationally innovative learning and recreational spaces. Gustav Heinemann School, Rastatt, 1995.


Behnisch & Partner, Ingolstadt Hollerstauden Education Center: The different facilities follow the ideas of Maria Montessori and other reform educationalists. Elementary School - 4th grade

Circular building

Ingolstadt Hollerstauden Education Center. View of rotunda that serves as meeting center.

Entrance hall

Below are the kitchen, cafeteria, secretary’s office and music room, above mostly administrative areas. The stairs serve as seats for drama performances.

Whole complex

Ingolstadt-Hollerstauden Educational Center by Behnisch & Partner: five buildings with different emphases, and sports hall.


Montessori College Oost, Amsterdam: The first new building worldwide that was erected especially for a secondary Montessori school.

In praise of diversity

Fridtjof-Nansen School, Hannover, recreational and learning area

Fridtjof-Nansen School in Hannover-Vahrenheide, Expo 2000 model school, aiming to integrate more movement into the learning and recreational areas.

School on the move

Being in motion at Fridtjof-Nansen School implies flexible use of space, learning appropriate rhythmization of tuition, self-directed learning and the opportunity to be on the move in the recess. The teacher leaves his/her central position.

Movement friendly furniture

Basic equipment for a “school on the move”: ergonomic, mobile, flexible furniture. VS PantoMove height adjustable swivel chair with dynamic seat and Ergo-III height adjustable pupil’s table with inclinable table top.


In praise of diversity

School on the move – lessons in different areas

Children are stimulated to act of their own accord. Sitting all the time is not obligatory.


Witthaus School, Haigerloch, this all-day elementary school received an award for ground-breaking educational features. Children’s natural urge to move about is not blocked but integrated into school routines to encourage learning.

Learning free of a fixed time schedule

The rigid 45-minute session was abolished at Witthaus School and substituted with more liberally based learning units.

In praise of diversity

Perspectives Charter School, Chicago / USA, Perkins + Will

The classrooms are grouped around an open area, the “family space”.


The Perspectives Charter School in Chicago, Illinois (USA) by Perkins + Will is located in a blue-collar district, not far from the center. It reflects the triangular shape of its site.


VS equipped the library at the Perspectives Charter School with points of service, PantoMove-LuPo swivel chairs and RondoLift tables.

VS furniture

Amongst the equipment supplied by VS to the Perspectives Charter School in Chicago are pupils’ tables and chairs, including the cantilever Panto-Swing.



De Salamander School in Arnheim (Netherlands): Architect Herman Hertzberger saw the school building as large framework. Two inner yards are integrated into the complex.

Classrooms without limits

There is a wide hall area in front of the classrooms in the De Salamander School where there are additional pupils’ workplaces.

VS permanent exhibition at the company headquarters in Tauberbischofsheim.

The classroom from the end of the 19th century until today

Opening times: Monday till Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and by appointment +49(0)9341-880 Entrance free

Exhibition catalogue

There is a catalogue to accompany the exhibition: Thomas Müller, Romana Schneider, The Classroom: From the Late 19th Century until the Present Day / 304 pages, around 900 illustrations, some in color. Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Tübingen Berlin, 2010. Available from VS School Museum

Our website uses cookies to provide your browsing experience and relavent information. Before continuing to use our website, agree & accept our Cookie Policy