by Jincy IypeNov 23, 2021
X+Living has completed an anomalous, fairytale infused private kindergarten as a 'museum in clouds', called Zi Ling Changxing in Huzhou, China, replete with exploratory rooms of play and learning within borderless fantasy white surfaces. Known for their whimsical, dreamy, and often cinematic interiors, the Chinese designers aimed at "moving the universe into a kindergarten", driving the unique and unconventional design of the early childhood education centre. The designers integrate function, aesthetics, and an avant-garde expression with consideration, wrapping it in dreamy, soft elements that become a second home for children.
The Chinese studio was commissioned by the Zi Ling Education Group who uphold the idea of returning education to its essence, striving to build a space where kids grow up independently, naturally, and freely. The 12,800-square-metre space is designed to encourage children to learn through experiential methods, putting a concept of “seeing as knowing” into play with myriad classroom types, each designed with its specific program. For the kids, the classroom designs also take the shape of art galleries, cultural centres, science, and technology museums, designed to stimulate their cognitive understanding of different disciplines, fostering the exploration and perception of dynamic spaces.
Chinese architect and designer Li Xiang, founder of X + Living, shares that the design team not only considered and accurately grasped a kindergarten’s key elements such as graphic features and safety, but also went through careful market research. “Based on that, the high-quality, unconventional, and instructive kindergarten came into being. It is not simply a heterogeneous product that differs from the existing typology in aesthetics or planning. The brand’s vision of the space and the design details serve an educational purpose with an imperceptible influence,” she says.
Inspired by museum typology, the Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten has inner facades, ceilings and floors that evoke the shapes of soft, puffy clouds adrift in a lazy afternoon sky. “In the white and dreamy clouds, a school full of love and freedom is gently wrapped. It is a ‘museum’ dedicated by the designer to children,” shares the design team.
“Knowing by seeing” finds genesis at the first-floor entrance lobby, where a macroscopic universe engulfs children in the mysteries of astronomy. A customised galaxy light stripe surrounds six starlike sphere lamps here, to let the students grasp the vastness of the universe, recreate the origin of everything and most importantly, awaken and nurture curiosity.
The student’s imaginations are allowed to run wild, with catalysts in the form of smiling curves and flowing grand interiors that are evocative of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical, fluid creations. The undulating white walls of the circulatory corridors become canvases to display the kid’s works, and for teachers to add posters of science trivia, furthering the concept by becoming an art museum for the students. Skirting lines here are designed as ruffles of clouds, doubling up as soft covered seating for adults as well as children.
A unique setting of “swimming in clouds” is infused throughout the kindergarten design – the natural ebb and flow of the ceilings, walls and the edge of the massive swimming pool builds a dreamscape for the kids. Soft light from the concealed pale pink light band and the ceiling embedded ball lamp not only reduces the load on children’s eyesight, but also suffuses the space with tenderness.
Perhaps the closest to X + Living’s visually powerful and surreal design vocabulary, the “gently beautiful” auditorium sports lines of gradient pastel seats like half opened macarons, topped with a spherical ceiling and a background of white. "Children seem to be wrapped in the blooming flowers, as adorable butterflies about to take flight,” observes Xiang.
Entertainment with Heuristic aesthetics
Perceptibly, the classroom sees the maximum usage and frequency in educational architecture, and X + Living ensured that they were designed keeping in mind high spatial density, topped with an inclusion of activity, and living spaces. The macaron hues are seen here as well, gently abolishing the blunt whiteness of the classroom which find decoration in the form of artistic ceiling lamps.
A designated sleeping area is located on the classrooms' side, where a massive interactive jigsaw puzzle acts as a screen. Simultaneously, the room divider can also be used as a whiteboard for writing and painting, which increases interaction from the teaching staff. Child-sized washing pools and other equipment have also been included in the classrooms to cultivate habits of good hygiene, "so that they can learn to grow independently in the real simulated environment,” shares the design team.
The classroom in the attic features an oversized architectural camera, an element to capture the playful, magical moments of the lives of the children. The high ceiling is put to good use by introducing a play area for climbing up and down, where the giant camera lens acts as the passage. The interior design of this room is thoughtfully given a cosy makeover compared to the other ones, with rounded, warm wooden furniture and accents and childlike decorations on the walls.
For the art room, the designers took an approach of subtraction, lending special care for a space that cultivates and inspires the tiny ones to create with abandon. Colourful lockers and display shelves adorn the space, similar to the LEGO classroom for building and playing. Sunny yellow takes over the sports room to energise the children. The bottoms of all columns here have been treated with soft materials to prevent injury during exercising, keeping in mind the height of the users.
The reading classroom is fitted with floor-to-ceiling glass, where specific areas are designated as per different experiences of reading which the kids are allowed to choose on their own. Artificial leather covers all cabinets and steps here to prevent collision and scratching. An exploration classroom lets children explore and discover the mysteries of science, replete with a customised arc lamp strip that simulates star tracks.
Folding doors separate the traditional culture classroom from the dance room, which can be combined later into a multifunctional compound space for other purposes. In the former, window covers of oriental aesthetics adorn the wall that displays Chinese and Western classical or modern musical instruments and continues into the dance classroom. A mini city prepares children for the adult world with simulated supermarkets, hospitals, even a real kitchen, presented in the aesthetic maximalism redolent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
The soft colour tone of the entire project follows inside subordinate functional spaces with low density such as the health room, piano room, psychological game room and other office areas used by teachers. These find exquisitely designed reliefs in the form of crown moulding and subtle wall decoration.
The encompassing whiteness of the interior design was to create seamless cohesion between all the spaces of the Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten. “The harmonious match of cool and warm colours in details exercises children's observational ability and enriches visual appreciation. We consciously avoided dazzlingly bright colours, in an effort to avoid creating distractions, sensory overload and highlight the children and their creations as the core of the venue," explains the firm.
A tangible, built expression of the willful, colourful dreams of a child, the project becomes a platform to foster free and growing fields of knowledge, an untapped canvas of exploration and self-discovery. “Preschool education is the first important lesson for children in their life, during which children begin to interact and socialise, touch and perceive the world with their bodies at will. They experience love in interaction and develop a way of thinking that will affect their whole life. Therefore, such a space should be full of exploration and positive guidance, free and borderless so that children could fulfill their growth transition through different stages and cultivate independent thinking,” concludes Xiang.
Name: ZiLing Changxing Kindergarten
Location: Huzhou, China
Area: 12,800 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Chief designer: Li Xiang
Project director: Fan Chen, Chen Xue
Designer: Lin Maiqi, Su Ting, Zhou Haohua, Ren Yujin, Hou Yanjun. Jing Wanling, Xie Yu, Li Yaping, Tang Xing, Wang Liyao, Fu Jiawen, Zheng Shuwen, Xiao Yuting