In Chinese architecture, courtyard is both a conventional physical space and the center for sharing of feelings. Families are connected to each other and the nature through courtyards, a luxury for inhabitants in metropolises.
The town of Anting is located in the northwest of Shanghai, adjacent to the town of Huaqiao, Suzhou. To the south of Anting station along the metro line 11, a new neighborhood is taking shape, with facilities for community education, culture and businesses at its center. One of the three schools in the community, the kindergarten is among the first public architectures, funded by Anting Shanghai International Automobile City and jointly operated by the education group Dolwich and East China Normal University.
It’s hard for the plot of 7,400 square metres to accommodate 15 classes, structures of less than three storeys covering an area of 6,600 square metres, as well as a variety of spaces for outdoor activities. But we still want to seize the opportunity and design a kindergarten with a courtyard for children in modern cities. Experience of courtyard life will enable them to understand the nature, the society and shape themselves .
As the enclosure of building units is needed to create courtyards,we came up with a W-shaped floor plan, in consistent with the slanted boundary in the west of the site. The plan, along with the terraced units arranged from south to north, ensures sunlight to the maximum at the west, south and east. 经过反复研究，我们发现六边形单元体是适应这一群体形态的最佳选择，蜂巢状的组合能够更好地适应斜边的转折，其内部和外部空间更有活力和凝聚感，也能够消解传统四合院中正交轴线所产生的压力。
After continuous research, we figured out that hexagon units could best match with the features. Honeycomb-shaped combination could better adapt to the bending of the boundary, which not only makes the interior and exterior spaces more dynamic and cohesive, but also eliminates the pressure caused by orthogonal axes of conventional courtyard houses.
Space for Outdoor Activities in the Courtyard
The building units and courtyards produced are irregular hexagons with three sides of equal length, enabling us to make more flexible arrangement in accordance with natural lighting and functions.
Corridors in the yards are arranged along the edges of the hexagons. After entering the gate, teachers and pupils walk along the winding corridors, past the courtyard at the entrance and the hallway, past the forked or merged paths, past the neighboring classrooms and abundant plants, and finally arrive at their classrooms.
In terms of the class units for children, we chose not to divide the space into classrooms and bedrooms as per the building codes. Instead, we makeit intact and flexible by merging them. Collective activities in the classrooms are carried out around the column at the center while group ones can revolve round the hexagon walls.
As provided for in the codes for kindergarten-classroom design, knobs of windows shall be installed 1.4 metres above the ground to eliminaterisks of children opening them. Unique ideas are thus incorporated according tovaried heights of children and teachers. Bay windows ranging from 30 to 130 centimetres above the ground are designed for children to put their toys on, read books and look after plants. Above them are concaved windows with1.4-metre-high knobs for natural lighting and ventilation, for the convenience of teachers.
Overprotection of children is characteristic of China. During the process, we once attempted to install sliding sashes on the bay windows with spaces for outdoor activities, enabling children to climb in and out. They are thus able to switch between the interior and exterior spaces during the time for outdoor activities in ways whatever they like instead of using the actual doors. However, the idea fails to be implemented due to the stringent codes and management issues. Some sashes of the bay windows have to befixed and cannot be opened.
The strategies for terraced units allow us to put courtyards on the second and third floor so that all the classrooms are connected, in adirect way, to courtyards for specific classes, with two classes sharing onecourtyard. Starting from each courtyard, children are allowed to set off to the reading room, the music room, the painting room, the playroom, the canteen, the multipurpose hall, the mini farm as well as classrooms and courtyards for other classes. Meanwhile, the external staircases make it so convenient for childrenon the second and third floor to join in the activities on the first-floor playground from their courtyards.
Project name: East China Normal University Affiliated Bilingual Kindergarten
Site: Anting, Jiading District, Shanghai
Function: kindergarten with 15 classes
Site area: 7,400 sqm
Building area: 6,600 sqm
Structure: Reinforced concrete framework with part of the corridors made from steel
Material: White fluorocarbon coating, transparent and screen printing glass, aluminum profiles and wood-plastic composites
Time of design/completion: 2012/2015
Client: Anting Shanghai International Automobile City
Design team: Zhu Xiaofeng, Li Qitong, Ding Penghua, Yang Hong, Du Jie, Shi Yan’an, Cai Mian, Du Shigang, Jiang Meng, Hu Qiming and Guo Ying.
Structural and electromechanical design: Shanghai Jiangnan Architectural Design Institute Co.,Ltd
Construction: Gansu Fifth Construction Group Co., Ltd
Photographer: Su Shengliang