by Dhwani ShanghviSep 09, 2022
Shenzhen is perhaps best known as a global technology hub, as well as important manufacturing and finance centre. The architecture that houses these programs often find itself being discussed for how they define the cityscape and urban skyline. Deliberated both as a celebration and a cautionary tale, the densely populated city requires programs beyond commercial and retail architecture. One such function is in the form of institutional architecture, such as schools and universities. The Ibobi Super School in Dachong, China, designed by VMPDE, finds itself a unique space within the hi-tech and dense architecture of one of China’s most populated cities. Located on the second-floor terrace of a mall, the school is one of the few places in this area with the possibility of incorporating a large outdoor space into its layout.
A terrace of a mall is an unusual location for a kindergarten, but it does provide the opportunity to formulate an alternate version of the relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces in institutional buildings. Because the school is located on the second floor, the building's façade can only act as a visual connector between the inside and outside. The physical transition space instead is inverted to face inwards. The school itself is accessed from within the mall, with a reception area leading to the central courtyard. The terraces outline is lined by classrooms, staffrooms and a theatre. These formal functions form an outer ring that frames the school's program.
The outdoor terrace acts as a circulation nexus that is buffered from the indoor classroom through a covered transitional space. This cover corridor is elevated to the same level as the classroom, forming a platform for easy accessibility. At the same time, the porches allow people to enter and exit adjoining spaces freely depending on the prevailing weather conditions. Greenery was added in the form of flowerbeds styled based on the functions of different areas. After an extensive selection process, VMDPE Design chose to use silver grass.
VMDPE Design is known for its focus on environmental design for children's educational institutions. While there is an idealised notion of outdoor and nature-driven learning, the outdoor spaces that are part of this school offer a new understanding of playground, sports ground, and park. In fact, if one were to analyse the plan carefully, a larger portion of the site is open-air than enclosed. The immediacy of the indoor-outdoor relation in this kindergarten does not take place on a ground plane. This relation is instead experienced over an aerial plane and in relation to the open air.
Within the outdoor space, VMDPE explores a variety of forms of play. Not limiting itself to looking at outdoor play areas as sports, the master plan includes spaces for arts and crafts classes and theatrical performances. Simplified into three categories of outdoor sports, outdoor classes, and outdoor festivals, these spaces are not clustered into individual areas but rather integrated to add a layer of learning to outdoor playtime. But this also means that when required the central courtyard can cater to a specific activity if required. For sports competitions, the entire courtyard can be utilised as the studio was mindful of incorporating safety measures for different types of sports. During events, the tree platform becomes a stage, and the designated gardening area can be used as a path to the stage.
VMDPE referred to and took inspiration from ideas expressed in Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives by Benjamin Bloom. Attempting to put into practice the ideas of psychomotor theory proposed in the book, the playground equipment was designed to allow functions and experiences to be visually symbolised. Drive-by ideas of developing skills, kinesthetic application and talents, the idea of play serves a dual purpose of both nurturing and learning.
The duality of lesson and play is particularly evident in the ‘Kinder Art Gallery’ located in a corner of the outer ring on campus. This offers a more enriched experience for children who then see their “work” recognised in a context outside of the classroom and home. The kitchen is equipped with a transparent window for children to look inside, allowing them to ‘observe’ their food. Adjoining this is the 'Children's Kitchen', a space where children are encouraged to make food by themselves.
It is hard to imagine a mall as an appropriate location for a kindergarten. Yet the Ibobi Super School finds its identity with the massing of a commercial building. The spatial planning and strategy highlighted here are important to note as they explore the potential of creating light spaces within high-density urban spaces.
Name: Ibobo Super School
Location: Nanshan District, Shenzhen, China
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: VMDPE design, Design Director: Vinci CHAN
Design team: Vinci CHAN, Dio ZHANG, Nancy LU, Zoro ZHENG, Wally
Fresh air ventilation system: Panasonic
Disinfection lamp: PHILLIPS