by Sneha ShahAug 08, 2023
Children are seldom viewed as significant stakeholders in the design process of our built environment, particularly when they are the primary users. Schools are where they spend a considerable portion of their childhood, and it is natural to assume that the built environment of a school will significantly impact their development. The vocabulary used for child-centric architecture reflects the neglect of their unique requirements. It does not have the child’s welfare at the forefront and is often to enable ease of management and maintenance rather than to bolster positive development. Zöldike Nursery in Budapest by Hungary-based firm Archikon Architects is an exploration where child-specific and contextually relevant design embraces the site’s heritage. The nursery is built on a site with historical subterranean structures, the oldest parts of which date as far back as the Roman Empire. The project takes a refreshing approach with features that make the built environment take a more supporting role, enabling interaction and exploration for children.
The heritage of the site is tied deeply to its geological and climatic conditions. Because of the Tétényi plateau, its slopes along the Danube and Budafok, a neighbourhood in Budapest, have historically been ideal for wine production. A combination of factors, including an increase in commercial wine production in the 1880s and the geological composition consisting primarily of limestone, led to a cellar network being carved beneath Budafok. The cellar network still exists today and is relatively functional. It was built by a union of wine-producing and bottling industries. The mountain of Budafok is replete with an intricate network of cellars. Viticulture was the primary occupation of many locals, and it was common for them to build cellars before family homes. It was also common to live in homes carved into the mountain because of the structural integrity of limestone. Due to the onslaught of urban sprawl, these features have become invisible.
An intriguing feature about the cellars is that they often have different owners than the land and buildings above them. The underground structures sometimes connect to the surface through ventilation flues which pierce the landscape. This feature was present on the site for the nursery as well. Although an impediment at the beginning of the process, the flues were eventually renovated and have now become a defining feature of the project. Circular apertures in the concrete rings transform their imposing form by giving them a playful nature. The peculiar design of the ventilation towers aims to arouse people’s interest in the neighbourhood and make it an inviting place for adults as well—where they can interact with children—making it a place that harbours community.
The most rapid brain development in humans happens from birth to five years of age. Since the nursery accommodates children under three, the architects understood the profound impact of the children’s immediate environments on the early developmental years. “Previously, the standard did not allow windows to be placed low, since radiator heating required a certain sill height. Since there is no such thing here, we managed to change the standard. This way, the children can finally see out of the windows,” Archikon Architects tells STIR.
The project aims to rekindle the site’s connection to its history while also applying principles of sustainability and security. The structures start at a distance from the road, creating introverted spaces and built elements in contrast to the open space in the front. The spaces in the nursery are dynamic—transitioning from open to semi-open to closed and so on—creating a diverse quality of space for children to play in, allowing their imagination to flow freely while also providing safety. The nursery is not a single structure but an arrangement of built masses connected through corridors, allowing the project to have seamlessly transitioning spaces. The layout follows the natural slope and orientation of the land, which optimises solar exposure. A green roof covers the classrooms and its deep cantilevers provide shading against direct sunlight and rain.
The interior design decisions were intended to facilitate positive interaction for the children with the built environment through materials and spatial arrangements. High-quality materials and finishes were prioritised instead of allocating the budget to extravagant aesthetics. The intention to engage the children’s imagination through activities reflects in the features designed - the playful-looking ventilation towers in the rubber-clad outdoor playground.
White, the primary colour defining the project is designed to symbolise and be in symphony with the surrounding limestone mountains. The theme further reflects in the details—the wooden finishes covering the storage units recessed into the wall are also varnished white, the tile covering is white and light blue, and the PVC floor is pale grey in some places and pink in others. Thus it becomes reminiscent of the heritage structures carved into the limestone mountains.
Special attention was paid to the existing features of the site which made the design context-specific. While talking about how the structure was designed to reflect the history of the site and also child-friendly, Archikon Architects explains, “A geological study was prepared for its foundation, which precisely marked the ridges, the building was moved onto the terrain, and intimacy and protection were created by creating inner courtyards for the little ones. The characterful ventilation towers follow the allocation of the existing air vents, but they do much more than that, they enlarge them, thus becoming a symbol: they remind the local residents of what lies deep below them.”
The project thus becomes a bridge, garnering empathy for both users—the children—and the historic vestiges of the site—the cellars that lie below. It is also a reflection of how our architecture does not need to be limited to solving just one purpose. The project reveals hints of two distinguished projects, IIM Ahmedabad by BV Doshi—for its fragmented planning that allows for a multiplicity of spaces, and Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila—for how the functional elements of ventilation shafts are transformed into identifying facets of the project. The project becomes a symbolic marker of the region’s history while nurturing the future, by creating an interactive and imagination-fostering place for young children.
Name: Zöldike Nursery
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Area: 1466 sqm
Year of completion: 2022
Architect: Csaba Nagy, Károly Pólus, Dorottya Kassai, Krisztina Horváth, Ádám Pásztor, Szilveszter Rády, Zsófia Senánszky - Archikon Architects
Structural Engineer: Tibor Pintér
Building Engineer: Csaba Makáry
Electrical Engineer: György Kapitor
Landscape Architecture: Edina Massány