Aiming to develop highly energy-efficient buildings by means of form and construction, while comprising 50% air, we settled on solving one of the problems at the time—the lack of kindergartens in Zurich. Kids’ City is a challenge that was not seen as a limitation to design liberties as it leads to a new architectural quality of a kindergarten design that allows children to use the best of their childhood throughout all seasons.
Being familiar with the enormous mental and physical benefits of playing outside and counting on the children’s natural impulses for exploration, the kindergarten is located in an unspoiled forest area near the city center of Zurich, insisting the vast majority of time is spent outdoors. This environment with an obstacle course of ramps, benches, bars, and climbing nets around trees, grants children to develop a much deeper understanding and respect of the nature around them. Every tree is there for climbing and this allows them to assess risks better, to learn by themselves, learn from their experiences and their mistakes, learn from each other, and finally to get much more confident and outgoing when they reach school.
Architects: Ajla Imamovic, Mia-Martina Hren
Location: Zurich, Switzerland
The general concept of the kindergarten building revolves around the shared transparent atria which fuse with six individual units forming an enclosed kid’s city. Such space enhances the movement even when the weather is bad. However, it also gives a new form of life to the kindergarten during night hours, where different types of receptions might be held. The form of the project is generated by stacking units with a well known traditional shape of a house on the undulating terrain, respecting the topography and the natural palette.
The central, entrance house deals with all the administrative work and is the main joint between all the units. The kindergarten offers one nursery unit with an additional entrance and is located in a more secluded part of the kid’s city. The unit for children between 1-3 years old and two units for children between 4-6 years old—all situated on different levels, are connected with a set of ramps, stairs, and paths. To afford the unobstructed, but at the same time challenging space for play, while still providing them with a space for their daily nap, some units are designed to have ramps and large steps with hidden beds underneath.
Three times a day, the kitchen—placed in the middle of the complex with its own service road, offers them healthy homemade food. Beneath the large glass roofs, the kindergarten’s enclosed part of the forest contains open-concept teaching spaces, a small theater, and adventurous routes that link these spaces with individual units. It is a zone mediating between the inside and the outside.
The unusual structure harmonizes with the surrounding forest. The absence of a strict raster for the units, allows the whole complex to expand in the future. Despite the fact that the position of the units might seem random, their levels, orientation, and apertures have been carefully studied to contribute to an eco-friendly design with high-performance and energy efficiency. Whether it is summer or winter, the sun, wind, and rain give a successful combination for renewable and responsible architecture.
Minimized energy consumption and optimum air and temperature conditions inside the units were achieved using a geothermal ventilation system that captures the heat from and/or dissipates it to the ground. The atrium is additionally ventilated through mechanically controlled openings on the roofs. Catching the direct sunlight, photovoltaic cells supply the building with electricity and hot water. Besides that, all the rainwater is harvested.
All of these systems not only seek to minimize the negative environmental impact of the building but are intended to educate children about the benefits of conservation of our natural resources and help to encourage an environmentally responsible attitude in the next generation.
Ajla Imamovic & Mia-Martina Hren
Ajla Imamovic and Mia-Martina Hren (from left to right) met at the University in Sarajevo during their Bachelor Studies of in Architecture. After graduation, they moved together to Graz, in Austria where their friendship grew stronger and their skills further developed at the Graz University of Technology. Always devoted to architectural design and urban strategy with a strong desire to adequately respond to different challenges of modern architecture, they found together a way to communicate and react with strong sensibility. Constantly designing and creating with thought, how to make the architectural products more responsible and at the end completely receptive to external influences, was the key for their successful progress and unity.
After their graduation, Mia moved to Cologne to work for nh plankontor architekten in a small corporate office, while Ajla worked shortly in Vienna for Nerma Linsberger. Later on, she joined Demicoli and Associates in Malta.