Text description provided by the architects. On the initiative of the local government facing shortage of preschool education in rural area, Crossboundaries was commissioned in 2015 to design a kindergarten for the Beisha Village in Fu’ning County, Jiangsu, the first province in China that has accelerated the development of high-quality preschool education throughout urban and rural areas.
Fu’ning County has been well-known for its tradition of advocating education, culture and morality. Located in-between the North plain and the central water network in Jiangsu Province, the county’s seasonal dynamics of agricultural produce still takes up most of space and dominates as an activity and as a way of making a living, putting dwellings and all built environment in the background.
Approaching to Beisha, you would be greeted by the endless fertile plain, its horizon deluded by the mist and just occasionally interrupted by the linearly arranged trees and houses. This is how most of rural Jiangsu is: flat, boundless landscape, as infinite as the skies above it. Once you arrive in the village, the feeling of overwhelming flatness somewhat disintegrates, the skies and soil become just a background collage, sliced in pieces by the tall trees that now dominate the scenery. Approaching the buildings through this natural colonnade feels like a discovery, a special framework that works well with the small, 2-3 stories houses with pitched roofs and brick facades.
And it is exactly this setting, the zoomed-in rural landscape of the Jiangsu flatland that the kindergarten designed by Crossboundaries grew from and ultimately belong to.
Appropriate scale of the project was a crucial starting point of this design and led us in creating a building cluster for Beisha, with required building volume broken down to house-like pieces, integrated by the central multifunctional open space. This integration of the outdoor and indoor is crucial to the early education environment and innate to the rural context.
This Beisha kindergarten functions as a smaller, slightly modified version of village, of which the scale gives the children a sense of familiarity and the interesting building relationships introduce novelty and encourage curiosity. Entering into the gate, children would first discover the main central space and the overall “settlement” surrounded by the trees and then, as they meander in between the “houses” they discover small, secret places tucked away from the main square, perfect for outdoor learning activities and playing Hide-and-Seek, just like what they always do in the villages.
In contrast, a typical school form, a courtyard enclosed by the prismatic volumes and repetitive façade that blocks off the surrounding and limits the view, with its protective, city logic would be a foreign object in this setting, an intruder in existing context, a symbol of inserted institutional architecture, rather than a place where the children would feel familiar and free, and identify it as their second home. And second home is exactly what the kindergarten for many of these children is, in quite literal sense considering that many young parents of rural area seasonally migrate to big cities for work and miss out on big periods of their children growing up.
FUN OF EXPLORATION
In Beisha kindergarten, the second floor pathways are not just connections between areas, they are also combined together into a platform of explorations for children. Once you are up on the second floor platform your experience is suddenly overtaken by the dynamic slopes of the roofs. The endless plain suddenly feels like a mountain gorge and the treetops are within a hand’s reach. This little shift of perspective enables the children to see their surrounding in a different frame and expand their everyday spatial experience.
The materials used for facades are locally available recycled bricks combined with white plaster, creating different faces of each “house”. The window placement on the ground floor, with several square windows of the houses facing each other, establish the visual connection between the buildings through the yards, constantly reframing the views and integrating activities and connecting inside with outside.
Since its completion in 2018, the kindergarten became not only a pleasure land for children but an easy gathering place of their communities. Parents and grandparents tend to chat and share more time during sending and picking up their children.