Sanhe Three Rivers Kindergarten
The Sanhe Kindergarten is a 5,000m2 educational building for 540 children on the outskirts of Beijing. The Kindergarten is designed by OBRA Architects in collaboration with China Architecture Design & Research Group acting as local design institute. The building is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed in the Fall of 2016.
The rigorously fenestrated concrete structure clad in local brick is configured as a faceted arc that, leaning against the north edge of the site, embraces a playground surrounded by a garden of local Chouchun trees (Ailanthus altissima) and of Peking Cotoneaster bushes (Cotoneaster acutifolius). The large playground, flanked to the north by the kindergarten and to the south by the garden is the soul and focus of the whole arrangement.
The building’s facade is articulated with extreme simplicity by windows of the same size. This homogeneity creates a background against which sequences of stair-connected terraces are inserted into the façade of the building, disrupting their order with spaces for outdoor learning and paths of direct connection between classroom and playground.
Classrooms are designed in a manner analogous to a typical New York City artist loft, with four-meter-high ceilings and a sleeping mezzanine over the bathroom and storage facilities where the children can take naps in the afternoons. In the typical Chinese kindergarten, the furniture gets rearranged twice daily, first substituting tables with sleeping cots in preparation for nap-time and then back to work tables during the rest of the day. We calculated that the arrangement in two levels with dedicated nap-time space will save the teachers enough furniture-rearranging hours to spend 20% more time teaching every year.
The children access the school from the west under a large conical canopy, and, during reluctant mornings, the ramped entry enlists gravity to hurry the children towards their classrooms.
The articulation of the building’s mass into smaller pavilion-like structures aims to reduce the perceived size of the building, distancing it from the institutional to approach the domestic, since for these children, it might be traumatic to confront the vast scales of Chinese institutional buildings for the first time.
The building also proposes to young minds an arrangement in triads that might be both familiar and easy to remember. There are three wings in the building with three classrooms in each wing. Each of the three wings also has three floors; there are also three stairs in the interior, etc. This arrangement into triads matches many things, not only the basic logical structures into which all of us are born: left/right/middle; yes/no/maybe; space/time/objects; and so on, but also the triad mother/father/child common in a country where, until very recently, the policy of one child per family has been the law of the land.