Beginning with Research on Children
For a long time, designers have the tendency to design building and spaces for children from an adult’s perspective without much questioning, and we have often neglected to ask the actual users, children, if this is what they really want?
Since the end of 2016 to 2018, Groundwork has been commissioned by the Architectural Services Department of Hong Kong to research and produce a design guideline on the future planning of children’s public playground facilities in Hong Kong. Within these 18 months of study, we have not only carried out on-site research and analysis on existing successful examples of local and international playgrounds, but also hosted participatory design sessions and used strategic questions to obtain various user experiences and suggestions on playground design through interviews. The data was collected from users including government officials, community workers, park management staff, children psychologists, school teachers, parents and most importantly, children.
Through this research, we have the opportunity to understand the vision and needs for playground design through interactions with more than 500 children:
1) It is easy for children to make friends and they have the willingness to cooperate with each other.
2) Children prefer environment made from natural materials over colourful synthetic materials and surroundings.
3) Children intrinsically enjoys to explore and face challenges. When children face overly risky situations, they will have the instinct to protect themselves.
4) Children will develop creativity and passion for the space when they face an environment that stimulates their imagination.
5) Children sometimes also require space and opportunities for alone time.
6) Children have an innate sense to treasure natural environmental elements such as sunlight and shadows, wind, rain and earth.
A kindergarten is a place where a person initially joins a social environment and becomes a member of society. It is the place where children begin to learn to get along with one another, learn about discipline, etiquette, build a collective consciousness, and develop their sense of self awareness.
A natural, comfortable and respected environment
Children naturally loves nature. The existing kindergarten building encircles half of a park, allowing ample sunlight to reach into the building. The park design focuses on the use of natural timber and concrete instead of synthetic colourful materials as the main material source, allowing nature to extend into the building’s interior, thus creating an organized yet comfortable learning environment. This type of spatial atmosphere not only enables children to enrich their spiritual well-being, but to also help them to gain a sense of respect for nature and the school environment.
The joy of exploration
For the kindergarten’s interior, we envision the public corridor as the threshold between the external park and the internal school environment. This corridor is the key social and play space for children between classes. Rather than it being a simple straight circulation corridor, its curved and angled form enables children to explore this space as another social arena.
The Richness of Light and Shadow
The use of light and shadows through different times of the day enables a space to have multiple depths, and can act as a plaything for children. Other than introducing natural sunlight into the internal space, we also use various materials such as reflective bronze and stainless steel surfaces in the external space, to play out an ever-changing and interesting effect that can help to maximize children’s imagination and their perception of space.
It’s a kindergarten, as well as a playground
Other than providing a disciplined learning environment for children, we shall not forget that a kindergarten shall consider children’s desire to play. As the kindergarten building footprint is limited, our design intent is to maximize the ground level natural play space by extending the external playground into the interior. The idea of the playground is therefore ever-changing. Children’s favourite elements such as slide, sand pit, climbing ropes, small hills and the curved and angled wall all contribute to complete the ground floor of the school as a play space. In addition, small cut out circular windows along the curved wall help children to envision themselves as being within a large ship and explores the corridor following the curved pattern on the floor.
Architecture is a form of Spatial Art. A space allows people to perceive emotions, desires, and store memories. As an architect, our mission for the kindergarten and its landscape is to add richness to the beginning of children’s’ lives.
Manfred Yuen, one of the partners of Groundwork, has mentioned in his TED-Talk speech about the concept of “Architecture and the Fish Tank”. At present, the society has often overemphasized the value of visual impact, which consequently affecting the design focus on over dramatizing the visual effect of spaces. If architecture is represented as a fish tank, people inside will be the fish, but the most vital element is the water body that stands between the fish and the tank. The water, representing the sense of touch, acoustics, smell and taste are oftentimes neglected. Our belief is to bring these elements back into the design, for users to experience comfort and joy in a space, and consolidating these experiences as memories that can last for a lifetime.
We hope King’s kindergarten is perceived as the ‘water within the fish tank’- a stimulating and comfortable learning environment that focuses on respecting children’s natural instincts and desires, where they can grow up with fond memories of their childhood.