“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it,” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in The Little Prince. Tiziano Vudafieri and Claudio Saverino, at the helm of the studio Vudafieri Saverino Partners based in Milan and Shanghai, are certainly among the latter few, as the Italian architects commissioned to design four schools in China – two in Shenzhen and two in Suzhou – for Gymboree Play & Music.
This is an American brand with over 700 facilities in 40 countries, very widespread in Asia, which offers a pedagogical method for kids up to 6 years of age, aimed at developing their creative potential and cognitive and relational skills through playful-educational activities involving listening to music, art lessons and moments of recreation.
The Shenzhen Upper Hills school – about 3000 m2 of classrooms, communal spaces and circulation areas, arranged around a garden with an outdoor play zone – also contains the offices of the brand on its upper level, featuring an orange logo, which is also the color of the outer facades of the building. It provides other spaces for collateral activities and the use of parents, like a gym, a cafe, a kitchen and facilities for cooking classes.
Each of the four kindergartens designed by Vudafieri Saverino follows a recurring leitmotif in the internal spaces, staging a unique, immersive world of the imagination. “In the design of every space, the inspiration came from investigation of the times of exploration of new millennial Peter Pans,” they explain.
“We set out to see through their eyes, creating islands of forms and simple geometric shapes, in soft materials and colors, without hard surfaces or sharp corners, to convey sensations and curiosity, rather than specific images. Leaving room for the imagination. Fantasy is more important than knowledge, because knowledge is limited while imagination represents the driving force of the evolutionary process of learning, perceived as a key archetype of potential and wellbeing.”
So we have the island of ‘forever-land,’ the ocean, the forest, the desert, the Arctic, the canyon, constellations, stairs and steps, mazes and slides, in which to imagine all kinds of adventures in the discovery of unknown worlds, in a completely independent, free way. After all, to think about a kindergarten as a mere functional container would have been a sterile notion indeed. Isn’t this one of the first dwelling-houses described by Freud? A substitute for the mother’s womb, “that first lodging for which man in all likelihood still longs, in which he was safe and felt at ease” (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1929).
Project Vudafieri Saverino Partners - design team Claudio Saverino, Tiziano Vudafieri, Anna Petrara, Stefano Piontini, Ana Arango, Iris Cai, Luke Lin