Daping Village, under the jurisdiction of Tianquan County, Ya’an City, sits in the hilly terrain of western Sichuan Province. A traditional village of farming practice, it is decorated by cascades of terraced fields, complementing bamboo trees and orchards, adjoining paddy fields and vegetable gardens, as well as foraging ducks and geese in the fields. Winding paths in the open country are accompanied by the organic formation of villages that wrap up clusters of cottages whose low brick walls surrounding the front-door courtyards undulate along the uneven village paths. Owing to the moist and rainy clime, Daping Village is more than often dressed in mist, portraying a self-sufficient village look with crisscrossing paths and rustic vibrancy.
Part of the “Post-Lushan Earthquake Restoration Project” championed by One Foundation, the Daping Village Kindergarten had its site planned near the Daping Village Central Primary School, which is inserted between the cottages and farmlands and built with aids from non-governmental players after the Wenchuan Earthquake. The school campus, large in building mass and following a straight architectural layout and site division in an urban environment, contrasts sharply with the cottages, showcasing a separation and confrontation between it and the ambient village.
The distinct villagehood and incompatible school in question prompted architects to further reflect on their design vision: What environment should kid learn and play in? Should they grow in a setting bound up with the throbbing countryside beats? Should they be bound emotionally with the hometown imprint for life?
Consequently, with a new land parcel allocated near the primary School that resembles the cottage clusters reaching out to the fields, we hoped this new kindergarten with only 3 classes could break the boundaries, carry forward the village ethos and reshape the emotional bond with the hometown.
▲ 视频介绍 ©SouthArch南社·建筑
The kindergarten is sited in an irregularly shaped multi-tiered tableland, close to the village alleys and primary school to the south and facing the fields on other fronts. It cascades down in tandem with the height drop of the terraced field, with as large as a 4-meter elevation difference between the south and north. We started by dividing the space into two levels, the upper connecting the cottages while the lower linking the fields, with the interspace as the transition using ramps on the tableland. Then we furthered our design in this confined spatial configuration.
The architectural layout of the kindergarten regenerated the forming process of a traditional village, using the “village prototype house” to constitute a close-knit living space for kids, and clustering several of these “houses” into a “village” in the kindergarten. Each space is a self-contained area of everyday life and activities for kids, a “home” for individuals.
Two prototype houses with the double-pitch roof, used as the activity room and lounge respectively, are placed with an intersection angle, housing the washroom, toilet, cloakroom and greenery courtyard. The double-pitch roof with grey tiles is the architectural response to the drippy weather and traditional building type. The façade of the activity room opens to the rurality with large window openings. The interiors of three spaces are color-schemed differently, allowing kids a greater sense of belonging to their “home”.
Three tiny “homes” assemble into a free and loose “village” whereas each opening between the structures points to the remoteness beyond the fields. A round square is encircled at the center of the “village”, purposed as the venue for group activities of the kindergarten and a shared space for community events. The activity room for music and P.E., the largest of all, employs a folding door that opens fully to the square center.
To clearly define the spatial attributes of the private “home” and communal “circle”, the annular corridor speaks a vastly different architectural language from the “village prototype house”, featuring a silver coating of lightweight metal on the roof covering on top of the light steel structure, steel columns in deliberate orange around the edge and a poetic overlay attributed to the sloping of roof covering and direction of corrugated boards, the last of which results in a circular watery curtain with rain dropping into the mini-square along the corrugated boards and the moving light and shadow cast by the roundish eaves under the sunshine, reminding us of the change in time like a sundial.
Unlike the smooth elastic rubber flooring in the interior, the ground in the annular corridor uses all-weather, colored permeable concrete, whose coarseness and flowing patterns inform a public space to run and play.
The “homeland” articulates the belonging of the mind. The kindergarten is set at the end of the village into the fields, and the different height buildings form a new landscape with the rustic countryside.
Frolicking kids in the kindergarten and toiling farmers out in the fields together portray a new imagery of village routine. The walk to the kindergarten is nothing short of a ritual, during which kids pass the low cottage walls and reach the iconic, high building at the end of the sinuous country paths, adorned by the white walls that enunciate the specificity of the kindergarten away from the cottages. Kids bid farewell to their parents and greet the teachers in the mini-square in front of the kindergarten, ushering in a new day of collective life.
A few rounded stools are there in the square, welcoming villagers for a leisurely chitchat or encouraging parents and toddlers to wait here when kids are about to leave for home. A maple tree is particularly planted by the stools, using its variable leaf colors to narrate the changing seasons together with the field crops at the kindergarten entrance.
Inside the kindergarten, the sites at the upper and lower levels are connected by an experience-rich loop. Besides fun and play, it’s all for “viewing the fields in every step”. The circular mini-square at the center of the kindergarten sits at the upper level, whose annular corridor with a lightweight structure reaches out to the exterior to create the zone of large game equipment and to the periphery of the premise to establish the gravel-floored game zone and herbal plantation zone, which are the apex of the interior site with an equal topography connecting with the outside terraced fields and then cascading down.
A sinuous gentle slope leads from the game equipment zone to the lower lever, enclosing a sandpit and paddling pool at mid-height. Running down along the ramp, one keeps approaching the fields, till the starting line of a 30-meter track at the lower end of the ramp, at which point the scroll of countryside landscape unfolds when looking into the distance. The track runs through the veranda in the elevated floor, where the walls are dotted with metal hanging rings as a place for teachers and kids to create and display their works. During the rain, kids can have fun in the covered veranda. At the other end of the track and veranda is a yard connected to the primary school, which reserves the original terraced fields and adds a few footpaths as a shared botanical garden for both institutions. The outdoor staircases with a gazebo lift the loop back to the circular mini-square, accompanied by a gingko tree, where “seeing” and “being seen” are both a piece of spectacle delight.
Grounds in the loop use different flooring materials, like terrazzo, permeable concrete, gravel, grass, rubber and mud, fitting the exercising needs of child development. The game zone features “indeterminate function” by design, encouraging kids to explore while playing games.
The cottages of Daping Village are typically enclosed by low brick walls, on which plants are displayed or local products are dried for a vibrant rural life.
The boundary between the kindergarten and countryside is also creating an interesting division and interaction. The red walls at the kindergarten entrance set off the white structures and lightweight circular corridor cover above, whose enriched brick red renders a vitality even during wet days; white hollowed-out enclosure walls line the countryside paths, so passing-by villagers and kindergarten kids can see and hear each other; no high wall separates the kindergarten from the fields due to the natural division availed by topographical height difference facing the terraced fields, so the enclosure walls are no higher than guard fences with squarish holes, giving kids in the younger class a clear visual of the landscape.
Afterword: The design team did re-assessment and follow-up over the one year after the Daping Village Kindergarten was put in use in September 2020 to the joyful finding that the key design vision was excellently delivered. Their design practice offers some rewarding solutions during the fast urbanization in China.
When a kindergarten truly breaks the boundary and becomes one with the countryside, it is above a simple functional “intruder” and turns into a new emotional bond. It is a sanctuary for village kids to learn about their homeland culture and nature when growing up, a link of familial interaction between village households and a venue of community activities in the village.