A free-flowing space that offers minimal intervention like a sky full of soft white clouds, the ZiLing Changxing Kindergarten helps nurture the imaginative universes and creativity of the children
The Zi Ling Education Group upholds the idea of returning education to its essence, and strives to build a platform for children to grow up naturally, independently and freely. Positioned as a full-time private kindergarten under this group, Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten puts forward the brand’s vision of ‘moving the universe into kindergarten’. Based on that, the designer interpreted the concept of ‘Knowing by Seeing’, which depicts the brand story with visual language, atmosphere shaping and spatial experiences, and presents the brand’s idea of cultivation and development.
X+Living has designed several landmark parent-child spaces in China. Introducing many years of experience into this kindergarten design project, designer Li Xiang not only carefully considered and accurately grasped its key elements, namely safety and interest, but also went through careful market research. Based on that, this high-quality, unconventional and instructive kindergarten came into being. The kindergarten is not simply a heterogeneous product different from the existing work in aesthetics. But the brand vision of the space and the design details serving educational purposes with imperceptible influence also shows the goodwill direction that the architects enjoy.
A Museum in Clouds
Museum, as an architectural symbol, was the first idea that came to the designer’s mind, but with consideration on how to make the perfect grafting with the preschool education space. By extracting the divinity from the architectural forms of the museum and utilising a similar structure, the sanctity of education was unveiled to provide children with a dreamy space. Under the objective condition that the architectural structure could not be changed, the facade, ceiling and interior floor were independently transformed, making the space model shapes like soft and puffy clouds. In the white and dreamy clouds, a school full of love and freedom is gently wrapped. It is a “museum” dedicated to the children.
At the entrance lobby on the first floor, the concept of ‘Knowing by Seeing’ starts from the macroscopic universe and leads children to appreciate the mystery of astronomy. A ‘galaxy’ light stripe surrounding six starlike artistic sphere lamps is designed in an effort to let children stand at the origin of everything, understand the vastness of the universe and awaken the original curiosity of exploring new knowledge.
A white wall provides convenience for the school to display and publicise. Stepping into the corridor, as a vein connecting classrooms and functional areas, the wall provides a space for children’s works to be displayed, while teachers can put up frames and shelves to popularise knowledge and science, which also continue the concept. This vein not only forms the main route for daily life and study in the kindergarten, but also makes for an art museum for children. The skirting lines are designed like ruffles of clouds, and are made into seats for parents and children with soft covering.
Under such a design strategy, the strong educational significance of the museum is extracted, which is in line with the nature of the kindergarten. Classrooms have become venues like art galleries, cultural centres, science and technology museums, etc, inspiring the cognitive understanding of different disciplines. Through the dynamic design here, children can explore from one hall of knowledge to another.
A Free and Growing Field of Knowledge
Preschool education is the first important lesson for children in their life, during which they begin to interact and socialise, touch and perceive the world with their bodies at will. They experience love in interaction, and develop a way of thinking that will affect their whole life. Therefore, such a space should be full of exploration and positive guidance, free and borderless so that children can fulfill their growth transition through different stages and cultivate independent thinking.
The designer makes great use of smiling curves in line with actual conditions, and outlines the soft shape of clouds in the space. At the same time, inspiration is also drawn from architect Antoni Gaudí with fine depiction of the details to render a ceremonial grand feeling as a trigger for children’s imagination.
Swimming in clouds is a unique experience in this kindergarten. Natural ups and downs of the ceiling arc, walls and the edge of the swimming pool are like lovely clouds, lightly lifting the children’s fairytale dreams. Soft light from the hidden pale pink light bands and the ball lamps embedded in the ceiling suffuse the scene, which not only protects children’s eyesight, but also strengthens the atmosphere.
The auditorium is also full of a fairytale vibe. The spherical ceiling and the white background foil the solemn environment. Lighting up the background lights, the seats with gradient colours render beautiful glows, making the whole space look gently beautiful. Children seem to be wrapped in the blooming flowers, like smart and adorable butterflies.
The designer’s minimal intervention of design technique is like building a dream, which makes the real world and children’s imaginative universes merge together and affect each other. New boundaries are created, and thus, the space turns into a free field for constant ideological progress.
Entertaining Method of Heuristic Aesthetics
As an activity and living space, the general classroom is of highest usage frequency and high spatial density in the whole kindergarten. The completely white classroom is adorned with gentle macaroon colours, and only the ceiling is decorated with artistic lamps so as to avoid grabbing too much attention. The sleeping area is located at the side of the classroom, and the partition screen in the form of a jigsaw puzzle interestingly echoes the theme of inspiring children to learn independently. At the same time, it can also be used as a whiteboard for writing and painting, which meets the needs of the teachers. In order to cultivate good hygiene habits, the classroom also features washing pools and other equipment of children’s size, so that they can learn to grow independently in a real simulated environment.
The spire of architecture leads to a characteristic attic classroom. The designer introduces the element of the camera with the intent of “capturing every moment in the children’s lives”. Making use of the high ceiling in the attic, a play area for climbing up and down has been put up to satisfy the children’s nature of playing. The childlike decoration on the wall matches the light and soft wood colour of furniture, and also underlines the characteristics and delicacy of nobility, making the whole space cozy and lovely.
In the space where children create and display their talents, the designer takes a subtraction approach so that the focus of the space is the children themselves. In the art classroom, colourful lockers and display shelves have been added with interesting techniques like kneading plasticine freely. The Lego classroom is more concise. The display cabinet simulating a craftsman’s kiln symbolises creativity, and the white wall gives full play to children’s imagination.
When it comes to the sports classroom, the warm and bright yellow colour can stimulate children’s sporty nature. Storage space for sports equipment has been provided on the wall, which integrates storage and display functions, and better enables children to learn how to distinguish these objects. The bottoms of all columns in the classroom are treated with soft materials according to the height of the children, so as to prevent them from being injured during exercise.
Through the floor-to-ceiling glass of the reading classroom, you can see a small world full of knowledge. Shaping different heights in space, the reading areas are divided into different reading experiences for children to choose freely. All cabinets and steps are covered with artificial leather to avoid collision and scratch. The exploration space is a special classroom, where children will explore and discover the mysteries of science. Therefore, an arc lamp strip simulating a star track is designed, and the cabinets inspired from technical equipment such as pipelines and launching cabins, also highlight the theme.
In consideration of functional mobility, the traditional culture classroom and dance classroom are next to each other and only separated by folding doors, so that the two classrooms can be combined into a multifunctional compound space for other purposes. In the traditional culture classroom, the window covers of oriental aesthetics fit the theme of wall decoration, which is used to display and hang the Chinese and Western classical and modern musical instruments. It also shows the kindergarten’s international vision. The dance classroom continues the wall design and unifies the aesthetic tonality of the space with a storage cabinet convenient for clothes storage.
In the simulation city, where children can enjoy the fun of occupational experience, the designs of simulated facilities have been integrated into the whole theme, incorporating simulated supermarkets, hospitals, other common facilities and even a real kitchen. The unity of aesthetics makes the space look like a mini city for children.
Health room, piano room, psychological game room and office areas used by teachers are subordinate functional spaces with low density, which follow the soft colour tone of the whole project, and are exquisitely designed with details such as crown moulding and wall decoration. In this case, children and parents will not feel inharmonious in aesthetics when they step into any space in the kindergarten.
Expectation & Value of Children’s Aesthetic Education
Distinct from traditional kindergarten design, Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten has its unique brand implication and differentiated colour schemes. The designer integrates function, aesthetics and avant-garde expression with considerate thinking, and presents a smart and dreamy aesthetics system compliant with children’s aesthetic needs.
The large area of white space allows natural connection between different areas as a whole. The harmonious match of cool and warm colours meets the needs of different regional attributes, and at the same time, exercises children’s observational ability and enriches visual appreciation. The embellishment of the brand colour makes the children enhance their affinity for the brand in daily edification. The project has not adopted dazzlingly bright colors, in an effort to avoid creating distraction and highlight the children and their creations as the core of the venue.
Childhood memories are always ethereal and distant in the corner of our memories that we may not clearly recall, but which influence us subtly as specific places or events continue to bring energy to us as adults. To create a space where a child would spend several years, the design should be of less intervention without forming a clear style. More attention should be paid to create experiences full of psychological hints, so that children could wander and run aimlessly and build up emotional connections with the space that would eventually become warm memories. Thus, the space itself turns out to be a dream woven by the designer existing in the children’s spirit world transmitting positive energy in their lives.
Photos: Jieyi Architecture Photography
Project name: ZiLing Changxing Kindergarten, Huzhou, China
Architects: X+Living, Shanghai, China
Chief Designer: Li Xiang
Project Director: Fan Chen, Chen Xue
Designers: Lin Maiqi, Su Ting, Zhou Haohua, Ren Yujin, Hou Yanjun, Jing Wanling, Xie Yu, Li Yaping, Tang Xing, Wang Liyao, Fu Jiawen, Zheng Shuwen, Xiao Yuting
Project Area: 12,800 sq m
Year of Completion: August 2021