FUNABASHI – In Funabashi, situated only 40 km from Tokyo in Japan’s Chiba prefecture, Aisaka Architects’ Atelier has created a naturally stimulating playground for 160 children. This kindergarten is for the children Japan desperately needs in the future.

The Amanemori Nursery is a ring-shaped structure, with a drop-like garden in the middle. In fact, the garden is not only in the middle of the structure – it is central to its design. Aisaka Architects’ big focus has been on providing access to nature and greenery. The outdoor spaces clearly reflect this thought. The two upper floors are enveloped by deck terraces, circling the ‘spot garden’. A slope leads from the second floor down into the small patch of green which also features a pond, while hills and cavities from different floor and roof heights create an environment that wants to be discovered.

Nature continues to be in the spotlight on the rooftop, where a vegetable garden is kept in order to educate children on food and foster a natural affection for nature and trees. For the same reason, primary colours have been avoided. Unlike other, more colourfully-designed spaces, the Amanemori is lined with the pureness of wood, steel and stone. A concept that allows children to experience the textures and learn about the material qualities. The whole builidng seems to exist in favour of curiosity: kitchen floors have been lowered and glass walls installed, so that curious eyes can observe the preparations - encouraging questions about the origin and preparation of food.

Looking at Japan’s current food situation might explain the heavy focus on nature. The continuing rural flight, changing dietary patterns and the new government’s favour of open trade have left the small country in need of local food systems - systems that the triple disaster in 2011 additionally destroyed and weakened, leaving Japan’s self-sufficiency rate at 40 per cent.

A second focus that follows from the nature-centred design is energy efficiency. Dissimilar eaves absorb the sunlight with solar panels and control the heat, while the spot garden creates ventilation. In winter, warmth is provided through earth tube heating using geothermal energy. The rooftop deck acts as insulation and the pond reuses the rainwater.

Growing up in an environment like the Amanemori Nursery influences the kind of questions children will ask and the answers they will get, equipping  them with a conscious starter pack for the future. It is a common complaint, that the town of Funabashi does not have anything to offer besisdes a shopping centre. This might have changed.

Photos Shigeo Ogawa