“It takes a village to raise a child.” This African proverb captures the value and role of a community in a child’s upbringing. How can vulnerable children feel a sense of safety and home? This is the biggest challenge of all for a project like this pre-school. In the midst of the site’s green meadows and fields, a walled corridor surrounds an existing Maura tree and defines a playground for the pre-school. The tree therefore becomes the main identity and orientation marker of the pre-school.
Besides being a place of play, the playground is also a fragrant garden, thus reconnecting the children— many of whom are disabled and socially excluded—with nature through sensation-rich experiences, and anchoring them to a sense of place.
Children can run around the playground in an endless loop, chasing after each other through a corridor that doubles as a self-navigating route for the disabled children. The walled corridor is furnished with tactile floor surfaces and open to olfactory features of the garden through perforations in its wall, and it connects all the activities of the pre- school with the playground. This ‘loop’ allows easy navigation around the school. Over time, all of the pre-school’s functional spaces can be organized as a series of small house-like forms around this loop, each having a sanitation area.
The free-standing curved walls that define functional spaces allow for plenty of sunlight and ventilation. They create an atmosphere much like that of a nurturing womb-like shelter. The open plan of the classrooms encourages varying layouts that can foster independence and collaboration instead of forcing children to sit still for long periods of time. The organic forms and intimate sizes of these spaces might help the children feel more at home.
A large overhang roof protects the spaces for learning and play, while preventing penetrating glare. Furthermore, deep-set openings in the walled corridor let children engage with the garden, while teachers can monitor their play without interfering.
When school is not in session, the facility—with its function-neutral configuration—can serve as shared infrastructure for the community and be used as an emergency shelter at the time of natural calamities. The complex also affords possibility for the preschool to grow around the initial ensemble, with the walled playground acting as the primary anchor.
This project is more than just a pre-school. More than a singular object, the building embodies the geography and culture of the region, while emulating the safety of home.