Pre-school, Kindergarten and Family Center

The project is the winning entry of an international competition.

The competition was issued by the city of Bolzano for two new school buildings and a public square located at the center of a new residential neighborhood planned on the southern outskirts of the city.  The preschool, kindergarten and family center is the first of the two schools to be completed and is equipped with a large kitchen at the lower level, serving all the kindergartens within the area. 

The local city governance, aware of the inherent challenges of forging a new neighborhood within the city, made a concerted effort to cast the school complex as a meeting place for the local residents.  Over the course of the years and as the neighborhood began to take shape, the project underwent a series of evaluations in efforts to best tailor the building at the center of this new quarter.

Taking its cue from the regulating masterplan which outlined at once a curvilinear and rectilinear footprint, the two-story building bends and sways to accommodate the three programmatic functions into one structure and opens up on the inside with three outdoor courts of varying sizes.  These bamboo-lined courts make for a transparent, light-filled interior and provide a common buffer-space between the various schools that delineates each program with their own distinct, dedicated areas.  

The preschool (ages 0-3) occupies the orthogonal, west facing side of the building while the kindergarten (ages 3-6) occupies the east-facing, curvilinear side of the building with 4 classrooms located on the ground floor and 6 activity rooms on the first floor.  At the head of the building is the double-height space of the children’s center along with a small office and kitchen used not only to accommodate support services to the community and their families but used also as an open workshop dedicated to reinforcing social ties within the new residential quarter.

In dialogue with the various stakeholders of the building, particular attention was paid to the intersecting discourse between pedagogical and architectural considerations and as a result, the design proposes a number of strategies to stimulate the interchange between the spaces of the school and the various didactic approaches.

First and foremost, visual connections are designed to promote participation between the three programs, and are conceived to sustain a continuity across the formative years as the children move from one school program to another as they grow older.  Secondly, the project offers a diversity of spatial configurations (indoor and outdoor) in an effort to stimulate a child’s incredible sense of space.

Sectional changes in height, together with variegated natural lighting solutions provide not only different scales of spaces but also different qualities of those spaces.  The courts themselves are closed rooms open to the sky that affirm all kinds of learning possibilities.  On one occasion one of the courts was transformed into a rabbit habitat where the kids could tend to them.  Furthermore, many surfaces within the activity rooms are themselves sites of exploration for the children, offering different ways in which to engage the senses of touch, sight, and sound.  This variation of spatial and surface conditions works at the didactic level in many ways, providing places of solitary-parallel and/or cooperative play.

In other initiatives, the corridors have become vibrant places of exchange and learning.  The spacious corridors ebb and flow along the perimeter of the courts to provide spill out spaces for small groups and special activities.  Niches within the walls separating the hallway from the activity rooms are carved out for the children’s changing area and ample space is also given over to the parents to promote inclusion and participation.

The interiors of the three constituent programs use a palette of warm hues and materials to create a “quiet” and comfortable environment in both visual and acoustical terms.  The corridors are clad with an oak-paneled wainscoting below and a series of textile-clad, sound absorption panels.

This wood wainscoting is threaded throughout the building and in combination with acoustic gyp-board and acoustic textile-clad discs, the school remains a comfortable place with radiant floor heating and radiant cooling in the exposed concrete slab construction of the ceilings.