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Timayui Kindergarten by Giancarlo Mazzanti, Santa Marta, Colombia

Mazzanti describes the need to provide neutral spaces that children can transform in their imaginations. Photography by Jorge Gamboa

Think of a daisy chain and you have the basic principle of Giancarlo Mazzanti’s modular school system. Three prefabricated classrooms are positioned like the petals of a flower to enclose a courtyard, and these groupings can be linked in various configurations and extended as far as the site permits. The architect has been developing and refining this concept over several years, and the Timayui kindergarten is his twelfth school, following El Porvenir in Bogotá (AR July 2010). Timayui is a poor rural community located at the edge of Santa Marta, a city on the coast of the Caribbean two hours’ drive from Cartagena. The municipality joined with the Carulla Foundation in commissioning this school and three variations on the same theme in other peripheral settlements.

‘The greatest need in the design of kindergartens is to provide neutral spaces that children can transform in their imaginations,’ says Mazzanti, whose three-year-old has corroborated his research. ‘Equally essential are small patios, corners, and interstitial spaces where kids can gather to play. The school itself is a learning mechanism.’

It is also a response to culture and site. In contrast to El Porvenir, which serves a tough but rooted urban neighborhood, Timayui is a newly-formed settlement of families fleeing violence in the countryside and it has no infrastructure. The mayor’s goal is to improve the educational and nutritional standards in these fledgling communities, starting with the youngest children. Mazzanti’s kindergarten will serve 350 babies and toddlers up to the age of five years in four classroom groups, and five shared and administrative spaces, strung along a covered spine. The intimate scale and tight grouping are reassuring, and the school is surrounded by a palisade that resembles traditional Indian farm fences. A garden provides fresh vegetables and serves as another teaching tool.

Mazzanti’s system of prefabricated modules speeds construction and holds down construction cost to about £280 per square metre. Here he has added pitched lanterns to the basic cubes, creating a cluster of pyramids that echo the nearby mountains.

Deep-set skylights modulate the tropical sun and serve as heat chimneys. The load-bearing panels of thrown concrete have a high thermal efficiency and are clad in speckled ceramic resembling local rocks to reduce maintenance. Its north-south orientation maximizes natural lighting and ventilation; while rain and wastewater are recycled. The climate on this coastal strip is hot and dry with brief downpours for only four months a year so there is little need to cover the play spaces.

‘We want to infuse our buildings with the spirit of the landscape and make them operate organically,’ says Mazzanti. ‘This school and the other three we are designing for Santa Marta are flexible and open-ended. We hope they’ll serve as a community resource that enriches the lives of the residents.’

Architect Giancarlo Mazzanti, Bogotá
Design team Susana Somoza, Andrés Sarmiento, Néstor Gualteros, Oscar Cano, Lucia Largo
Structural engineer Nicolas Parva

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