The importance of danger and dirt: Hibinosekkei on kindergarten design

Yokohama, Japan – Specializing in spaces for play and learning dedicated to young children, Hibinosekkei + Youji no Shiro literally invites new life into a dilapidated 40-year-old shophouse, transforming the two-storey building into four kindergarten classrooms. House-shaped window frames add a particularly playful element to the building envelope, giving the façade the appearance of a giant shape-sorting toy. Frame speaks to Taku Hibino, CEO of Hibinosekkei, on the concept behind MK-S Nursery.

Who is it that you think of when designing a kindergarten or nursery school like this? The person viewing it from the outside, the teachers, students, or parents?
TAKU HIBINO: We always think of the children first. Adults would want children to avoid injury, to keep their clothes clean… Our priority is to design a space that encourages children to play and to have fun. Of course we take functionality and hygiene into consideration. The concerns of teachers, parents and neighbours are not ignored – just secondary. If we were to focus on the adults that use and encounter the space, we would rob children – the most important users – of meaningful experiences and foundational memories.

Why do you think this is so important?
Children absorb everything they see, touch and hear. Particularly in today’s digitally led era, we should be encouraging children to have real experiences: to touch natural textures, to feel the sunlight and the wind, and engage in play that an adult might consider a little dangerous. It’s clear that our experiences as children shape the people we grow to become – so naturally, spaces for infants and toddlers should facilitate as many good and positive experiences as possible.

Was there a particular reason behind the shape of the windows?
There are four house-shaped windows and four classrooms: each window represents our wish that the classroom be a special home for every one of the children in it.

You said that the children are the priority, but of course the space also shows thoughtfulness towards the adults – through the folding screens, for example. How else did you incorporate flexibility and multifunctionality in the design?
Given the narrowness of the floorplan, versatility was a prerequisite in the design. The partitions allow teachers to expand their classrooms and make wide, open spaces for communal events and activities involving the different classes.

If we were to focus on the adults, we would rob children – the most important users – of meaningful experiences

Not only that, the partitions have blackboard panels which double as a drawing or writing surface for the children, as well as a magnetic message board for the teachers. The windowsills are rather inviting benches for the children to climb on, and one of the second-floor windowsills can be used as a table.

‘It’s important for young children to engage in play that an adult might consider a little dangerous,’ says Hibino.

At the same time, protective parents need not be concerned. The design is sensitive to larger dangers: each nursery room is designed to function separately, and has its own entrance to the outside for fire safety and situations that require evacuation. There are also ‘secret’ doors through the partitions that allow teachers to move in and out of classrooms quickly, controlling the flow of people through the building for security and convenience.

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