The project is for a kindergarten in a new masterplanned city in Jiangxi Province, China. In contemporary cities the role of public institutions such as the kindergarten and schools generally has taken on a renewed importance. With increasing population and density pressures, it is difficult to identify spaces within the city where a sense of the community or public-ness might be experienced, particularly when this involves open and green space. Cities provide public space, but these provide amenity to the individual more than a sense of common identity. With this in mind the proposed kindergarten becomes a space within the city which engages the broader community in the rearing the next generation of children.
At the core of this proposal is a philosophy of ‘the street’ as the key device which provides for vibrant urban life. The street is defined as the public space that that sits between and connects buildings. The roads and highways that form transit connections in a city, while fundamentally necessary to the successful functioning of a city, cannot replace the socialising role of the street in the urban fabric. While the process of masterplanning can make space provisions and recommendations for good public space, within the individual plot it is the responsibility of the architect to ensure that a building provides both a strong public interface and an internal network of public spaces. Therefore the core design philosophy that drives this project is the principle that architecture is an infrastructure that provides for and supports the production of public space and street life in the city.
Our proposal seeks to explore this idea by weaving a series of ‘public spaces’ and conceptual ‘streets’ through the architecture. The project is defined by the urban gesture of a bridge connecting the commercial zone to the south, with the waterfront park to the north. This bridge is a symbolic statement that places a public pedestrian street at the heart of the kindergarten. While the public is physically separated from the students, there is a visual connection and a strong spatial relationship. The space of the kindergarten is shaped and defined by the presence of the street, at the same time as the supporting the provision of an additional public amenity. The bridge provides a new siteline to the waterfront, and a moment of relief and surprise in the built environment. It is a gesture of generosity and familiarity that opens the city block to exploration by its residents. Ultimately the intention of this gesture is build an irrevocable relationship between the general public and the next generation of citizens, in the same way that a village is familiar with and cares for its young.
Similarly, within the kindergarten itself the design takes inspiration from the model of the village, where through the accretion of time, public space is formed through the negative space of built fabric. Using the trajectory of winter sun as a cutting device, pathways and plazas are cut out of the mass of the building, providing three cascading terraces embedded in the north elevation. These spaces provide outdoor spaces that connect directly into the kindergarten’s classrooms, and form ‘break-out’ play spaces where children can play with their peers in fresh air. A growing frame covers the streets, providing a green space that shelters the terraces during summer and provides dappled light into the interior during winter.
The southern, eastern and bridge sections of the façade are designed using a panelled ‘petal’ skin that reflects the program of the nearby ‘Flower Ocean’. The pattern includes solid and glazed elements, providing southern light and passive surveillance of the street, while presenting a colourful skin to the urban realm. Along the northern and western edges a berm wall ramps up to enclose the parking space and connect the building form down to the adjacent park.
John Doyle, Laura Martires, Fysal Amirzada
Completed Concept Design