Nature goes hand in hand with nurture in a kindergarten by Vo Trong Nghia in Dong Nai, Vietnam
‘Nurturing’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘safe’ might be three apt descriptions of this delightful kindergarten in Vietnam. Throw out any notions of cramped, utilitarian and rather hectic childcare settings which can characterise so much of building for early years: the child in their specific environment is at the heart of this project.
The building in Dong Nai tackles the particular environmental issues facing Vietnam and its children. Historically an agricultural economy, Vietnam is facing huge change as it moves to a manufacturing base. Increased droughts, floods and salinity jeopardise food supplies while air pollution, urban consolidation and development have reduced green space in the cities. Children who once played in verdant countryside now encounter concrete jungles, often unsuitable and dangerous.
Vo Trong Nghia Architects has given these 500 pre-school children (whose parents work at a nearby factory) green spaces galore. What child - or adult for that matter - can see that continuous curve of green roof and not want to run and play and learn on its slopes? It is the lush heart and soul of this building, praised by the judges, providing a secure and glorious playground, and offering food and farming experience through its vegetable gardens - a special place to teach children about the importance of agriculture and their relationship with nature.
The architects do ‘green’ very well - the Farming Kindergarten was highly commended in last year’s AR Emerging Architecture Awards, and their House For Trees won AR House 2014. But this isn’t about ‘green’ as an add-on or gimmick; it is an integral, rounded approach - and one of refreshing simplicity. With their award-winning house, for instance, the architects noted that trees are a natural way of reducing searing local temperatures through transpiration. As opposed to air conditioning, they say this is ‘the simplest thing we can do to change the situation’.
The same goes for the kindergarten’s growing roof, carving a knot in its landscape. It is a simple, careful way of bringing nature into the learning environment. It creates three internal courtyards and shapes the continuous narrow strip of the building, which sports clean, uncomplicated interiors and windows that maximise cross ventilation and lighting. The colour palette is fresh and bright. Concrete louvres promote shade. Among a wealth of energy-saving methods there is water recycling and solar water heating - designed visibly so that children can play an important role in sustainable education.
Most importantly, this building allows for joy - and for that it should be celebrated.
Architect: Vo Trong Nghia Architects
Principal architects: Vo Trong Nghia, Takashi Niwa, Masaaki Iwamoto
Project team: Tran Thi Hang, Kuniko Onishi
Photographs: Hiroyuki Oki, Gremsy