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Metaphorical, organic, late modernist and modular international examples of ECE

Since the 1980s there has been a growing recognition that the architecture of early learning and care is not exclusively for care or for education, and a new synthetic building typology is emerging, exhibiting diverse theoretical approaches.

Dudek states 'there are four distinct types' (2000):


Christoph Mackler designed one of the Frankfurt "Kita' day care centres, and stated that 'there is no such thing as architecture for children'. In his design there are no 'child oriented details'. He adopts the metaphor of the building as a small town, where a series of classrooms are arranged either side of a central corridor like terraced houses, with the corridor as the street.

An extreme and clear example of the use of metaphor is the 'sinking boat' Luginsland Kindergarten, Stuttgart by Behnisch and Partner architects, leaving little room for individual interpretation.

Dudek in 'Kindergarten Architecture' makes the point that the standard furniture used does not fit with the fantastical scheme, and "does one wish to live in a fantasy? After all Disneyland is a once in a lifetime experience, to visit it every week may transform the experience into something banal."


Architectural historian Nikolaus Munster says Mackler's Sossenheim 'Kita' takes children seriously, viewing them as 'small adults'. Yet some critics disagree saying the use of metaphor is patronising and attempts to create a synthetic 'Disneyesque' world, which avoids reality.

The Heddernheim-Nord 'Kita' in Frankfurt by Viennese painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser uses metaphor but is also expressionistic, 'a kind of fairytale castle whose onion domes and cosy corners make it seem very playful' (Munster). For Hundertwasser, children's architecture should reconcile the imagination of the child with expressive images, almost like a baroque stage set, using very literal metaphors and narratives as an alternative way of structuring the architecture.

Hundertwasser also attempts to reconcile the relationship between man and nature, with the architecture subsumed into the land, the roof a growing sediment of the landscape with trees and grass. "It's high time we did the opposite for once and went underground. To have the earth above our heads in no way means dwelling in dark caves or damp cellars...for it is our duty to restore the nature we destroy".

Christopher Day's kindergarten for Nant-y-Cwm Steiner School attempts to infuse the Steiner philosophy into architecture, believing that the environment has a positive influence on how children behave:

"The quality of their surroundings affects their play. Fast moving, loud and over-stimulating or dreamy, gentle magical environments induce different responses. Not only do children play differently in a street, beneath a motor-way or in a woodland glade, but also in rooms of different qualities. They also play differently with  inflexibly formed and simply experienced solids, and fluid materials such as water, sand or clay. Elusively formed and coloured, textured and so on, things like tree roots, soft dolls and cloth, support their vivid powers of imagination, whereas harder, harsher, unambiguous ones, such as brightly coloured 'play' cubes depress, although they rarely completely suppress it."

The buildings form imitates nature, the walls tapering out towards their bases, seemingly moulding the building into the earth. Softly curving walls welcome and encourage movement around the building encouraging exploration. His approach of harmony with the environment is what he believes will transform the inner state of being with the children.


Compare the organic approach with the Greisham-Sud 'kita' by Bolles/Wilson & Partner:

Caption reads: The building's face is a long, gently curved wall that might suggest a whale. The windows are playful in shape and composition, including one that marks the building as a Kindergarten with a large 'K'. Other light hearted details include a swooping leader pipe and a duck-lile roof-top monitor that can be appreciated from the roof terrace. The interior's generous corridors are punctuated by built-in furnishings and pools of natural light.

 Peter Wilson explains his approach as being about the building as a 'frame', that is 'neutral, without narrative content' and the 'adjacency a second order of event, a specific and localised event.' Thus, the playful, child-related details are placed within this frame.

The architecture is reminiscent of the modern, yet has architectural details which appeal to children "and lighten the earnest pretensions of much modern architecture" (Dudek, 2000).

This centre ('kita') in Eckenheim designed by Toyo Ito is built into the earth on its entrance side. The berm rests on a curved retaining wall and is pierced by a seemingly narrow entrance passage. Inside, the space is open and playful. The classrooms are lined up against retaining wall and open onto a bright wide hall, which in turn opens onto a playground. The bathrooms are designed in form and colour to suggest flowers within the playground.


During the 1950s, Jean Prouve designed prefabricated building elements and structure in France in order to satisfy tge need for rapidly expanding schools during the post-war years.

His thesis was that school buildings should reflect the times, rather than historical forms.

His few school buildings were made with robust cantilevered frames and infilled planar steel frame windows. Despite their advanced design, however, they were condemned as temporary buildings within 15 years of completion.

One of the earliest examples of modular early childhood centres was the Danish Forest Kindergarten (above), designed by Helle Grangaard for Kompan in Denamrk. Developed to travel around the country to provide children with activities and experiences in the outdoors.

Modular designs have a number of benefits, providing quick and easy construction that is often cheaper than building a traditional building. However, the term 'prefabricated' or 'modular' are often thought of as cheap and unimaginative.

However, this is beginning to change. Prefabricated buildings' benefits (cost and construction) are now seen to outweigh the negatives. Architects are now coming up with some beautifully crafted modular options.

And this is extending also to the architecture of early childhood education and care.

See blog post about Sure Start's new prefabricated building in Mitcham, and a kindergarten in slovenia that utilises the trusty shipping container.


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