AR_EA 2015 Commended
The Hakusui Nursery School, by the Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop, deftly creates a pedagogical platform for such a process to naturally unfold. Conceived as a ‘large home’, the Hakusui houses some 60 children from under one to five years and supports their growth on oversize stair platforms that step down its sloping site. The name Hakusui, which translates literally as ‘white water’, could be seen to embody the school design’s natural strategy to sustain life on this site, abundant with views of surrounding greenery and hills.
‘The character of the sloping site further defines the experience of the school through the movement of natural elements’
The name Hakusui, which translates literally as ‘white water’, could be seen to embody the school design’s natural strategy to sustain life on this site, abundant with views of surrounding greenery and hills. The school’s sustainable site strategies are both sociological and environmental. Built for the Seiyu-kai, a social-welfare association that built the adjacent senior nursing home, this school was conceived to create synergies between younger and older generations.
Yamazaki Kentaro design workshop nursery school chiba japan2
Under the single roof, newborns are cared for in their own room, while two, three, four and five year olds learn to share a common space divided by the descending levels. The children literally develop step by step down the site, with the bottom three levels for four to five year olds facing south to the deck and pond below. From the upper level ‘watch tower’ balcony, parents can observe their children’s uninhibited play, while also socialising with other parents and senior residents from the adjoining facility. While the floor levels step down in increments of 740mm, 360mm steps provide benches for sitting, and 180mm steps for walking.
The American pine columns are natural elements that physically and conceptually make ties to the trees outside, and stimulate children’s instinctive desire to climb. The floor is a stage for learning with shelves and storage tucked under the level above. The strength of the design can be seen in subtle, skilful moves such as situating toilets for each level between the social space and main circulation stair to control flows on many levels.
‘The Hakusui school physically activates the mind and body of the child through the fundamentals of collective play and the social bonds it instills’
Yamazaki Kentaro design workshop nursery school chiba japan3
The character of the sloping site further defines the experience of the school through the movement of natural elements. Water from rain and a rooftop sprinkler system naturally cools the interior as it forms a waterfall for kids to see from inside which collects at the pond below. This system also uses the hydroponic cooling of the pond with the stack effect of air flowing through the interior. In winter, hot air rising in the space circulates down using a ventilation system to heat the sugi (Japanese cypress) flooring from below.
In counterpoint to a contemporary virtual world shaped by computer videos and mobile phones, the Hakusui school physically activates the mind and body of the child through the fundamentals of collective play and the social bonds it instills. The full circle of the four seasons shapes the children’s formative physical activities and stimulates their growth at this critical stage of their natural development, as they take solid steps to their respective futures.
Architect: Yamazaki Kentaro Design Workshop
Photography: Courtesy of the architect