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A centre in Chicago which offers children a chance to interact first-hand with the world

 
Instead of the usual bombardment of bright colours and plastic play equipment, this child centre offers children opportunity to discover natural phenomena in the natural world. 


The UChicago Child Development Center in Stony Island designed by Wheeler Kearns chose minimally processed materials for its construction and a z-shaped plan, optimising daylight and providing plenty of access to the outdoors (of which have a footprint larger than the building itself).




The eastern wing, clad in tree bark, is designed for infants and toddlers. The bark is constantly  drawing attention, the architect Larry Kearns says, noting that people "always want to come up and touch it."

The western wing is clad in unpainted cement board siding serving children up to 5 years old.

A gently folding roof (half of which is covered with vegetation) shows exposed steel beams and tray decking under, whilst internally and clerestory windows provide ample natural light. 




At the centre of these two wings is the building's entrance and heart. The journey to which is characterised with monumental boulders, a gabion stone fence and ornamental trees providing a sensual and memorable experience upon the child's arrival.


The projects' architects Wheeler Kearns were influenced by the historic Jackson Park across the road designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1871, whose principles of freedom of movement and natural equality were to create a unified and total work of art were expressed with winding and inviting paths. Further to this was the idea of 'free association' - therefore giving expression to areas that encourage socialisation or meeting places. (For more on Olmstead's parks see here).



Rather than grand design statements, the architecture offers subtle variety and an abundance of texture to encourage many types of play and learning experiences.

Says the AIA (2005 Design Excellence Awards): "[the centres' design] emphasizes the natural landscape over the built one [including] different surfaces inviting children to crawl, roll, ride, climb and walk - to learn about their five senses while interacting with nature."



And when it rains, the water falling onto that roof is purposely spilled into splash tanks, which divert the stormwater. It becomes like a fountain, Kearns explains, demonstrating a natural phenomenon to the city kids playing inside the center.



Here, the built environment not only encourages children to interact with nature, they are willed into valuing it.

Click 'read more' below to see project drawings.



Click the pictures below to view full size.



From Left; 1 - Neighbouring high rise residential, 2 - Toddler classroom, 3 - Support services, 4 - Radiant heating in classroom, 5 - Direct access to playcourt, 6 - East playcourt, 7 - Boulders, 8 - Gabion fence, 9 - Shared driveway, 10 (far right) - Neighbouring elementary school, 11 - Green roof, 12 - HVAC plenum, and 13 - Clerestory.



Project submitted by Wheeler Kearns Architects.

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