The cultural gap between generations is increasing faster than the histories can recount. Computers can fit in the palm of a hand, cars can run off the sun, and yet the buildings where this knowledge is shared remain largely the same. Educational buildings are not well-known for their imaginative flare, but the architectural firm Youji no Shiro has spent the past 31 years changing that narrative.

Who is Youji no Shiro?

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Youji no Shiro Company Picture_©Hibino Sekkei.jpg

Youji no Shiro is a subsidiary of Hibino Sekkei that specializes in the innovative design of preschool interiors. Youji no Shiro architects and designers are thought leaders that create artistic spaces based on the cleanliness and modernism of Japanese design while maintaining playful essence. There are few firms with what resources to dedicate a branch entirely to this niche realm of design, let alone do so as well as Youji no Shiro.

Hibino Sekkei, birthed in 1972, created Youji no Shiro as a response to the quickly shifting social landscape that, due to declining birth rates, no longer needed – no cared for – stagnant, sterile, and eerily symmetrical large-scale school buildings. With fewer children engaging in these spaces, the designers of the era were challenged with creating fun and flexible spaces that were small in footprint yet gigantic in functionality. These new spaces need to encourage exploration, nurture young minds, and work in collaboration with the community the school would serve.

Youji no Shiro means “The Castle for Children” in Japanese, and the firm certainly lives up to its name (幼児の城, 2022a).

The Work

Youji no Shiro pillars their work on “designing the best hardware, or the environment for children” while creating engaging “software, or the activities which happen within the spaces (幼児の城, 2022c).” This thought process is visibly and tangibly manifested in all of the firm’s work.

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SDL Nursery Natural Light_© Yi Zeng. jpg

The SDL Nursery is a primary school for 0-6-year-olds within a high-rise building in Guangzhou, China. Due to the limited floor space, the nursery needed to somehow increase the feeling of its interior square footage and create an expansive feeling that reaches beyond the four walls of the nursery. The glass curtain walls and strong horizontal lines invite nature into the space in a way that not only visually expands the interior but ignites a sensory experience that encourages the young children to go forth and explore.

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SDL Nursery Lowered Partitions_© Yi Zeng. jpg

In the Montessori approach to a toddler’s formative years, children need to interact and experience exploration at eye level. This builds independence and self-confidence.  Youji no Shiro embodies this insight through the lowered partitions on the SDL Nursery. Combined with the glass for relief, partitions at this height keep the small space from creating a bottleneck-like pressure within the interior. The children are heartened with freedom of exploration and interaction at their level while the lowered barriers maintain order by allowing teachers to visually monitor each classroom no matter their position in the environment.

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SDL Nursery Multi-level Play_© Yi Zeng. jpg

Unlike typical educational architecture, Youji no Shiro intentionally incorporates multi-level spaces to encourage play while strengthening the children’s balance, minds and bodies.

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SDL Nursery Terrace_© Yi Zeng. jpg

The cafeteria opens to a raised terrace with a plethora of relaxation and play areas including a pool, play house, and sandbox. This space invites the sun inside, opens conversation between parents and faculty, or shelters teachers as they take a moment to decompress. This multi-layered design thinking creates zones of activity that serve the children, teachers, and parents alike.

The Process

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SDL Nursery Simple Cafeteria_© Yi Zeng. jpg

Firstly, Youji no Shiro aims for simplicity. Beautiful and functional design need not be cluttered or overstimulating. It should be intuitive and mould harmoniously into the needs of its users. This is a paramount value in Youji no Shiro’s design process.

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SDL Nursery Bathroom_© Yi Zeng. jpg

Second, natural elements, fun, and comfort drive design direction. The firm believes in filling its spaces with natural ventilation and materials. They believe natural sunlight and cross breeze are ideal for educational facilities, and materials should be safe. They are committing to keeping their facilities free of harmful pollutants from poor-quality, off-gassing materials.

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SDL Nursery Calm Terrace View_© Yi Zeng. jpg

As charming as Youji no Shiro interiors are, they are ultimately focused on the children who will grow there. Therefore, fun is packed into every corner. The floors are tiered because children are imaginative and inevitably find creative ways to explore them. Even the bathrooms are fun places full of sunlight. There are no dark spaces, so children aren’t frightened, and comfort elevates every dining experience.

Lastly, Youji no Shiro Designs for the future. Currently, the number of youth in Japan is declining, but the future is unknown and fast approaching. The current state of society is only for now and could change drastically in the future. Therefore, Youji no Shiro builds spaces that have the flexibility to change with society.

Closing Thoughts

SDL Nursery Cafeteria View 2_© Yi Zeng. jpg

Architecture is for everyone. No matter the age, physical ability, race, or religion, architecture should serve everyone. Youji no Shiro Beautifully balances a child-like spirit while creating environments that serve everyone utilizing the space, no matter the age. This feat requires incredible skill that Youji no Shiro continues to excel in with unparalleled elegance and subtlety.

Reference list

ArchDaily. (2022a). SDL Nursery / HIBINOSEKKEI + Youji no Shiro. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/977051/sdl-nursery-hibinosekkei-plus-youji-no-shiro?ad_medium=office_landing&ad_name=article [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

ArchDaily. (2022b). Youji no Shiro. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/office/youji-no-shiro [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

日比野設計. (2018). COMPANY | 日比野設計. [online] Available at: https://hibinosekkei.com/company_en/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

幼児の城. (2022a). English_Company_Profile. [online] Available at: https://e-ensha.com/english_company_profile/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

幼児の城. (2022b). English_Our_Designing_index. [online] Available at: https://e-ensha.com/english_our_designing_index/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

幼児の城. (2022c). English_Presskit. [online] Available at: https://e-ensha.com/english_presskit/ [Accessed 31 Oct. 2022].

Author

Tinia Marlena is a talented, young Interior Architect, Interdisciplinary Sustainability Consultant, and Storyteller. Her words uncannily reach into the theoretical to manifest seemingly tangible realities. She is a passionate environmentalist who creatively weaves her diverse aptitudes into a signature blend of imagination and vision. In her free time, she enjoys exploring mediums of creative movement and designing eco-conscious compact living environments.

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