Concepts for Day Care Centres A Manageable World for Children

The norm has been turned on its head. Until well into the ‘Sixties, the care and supervision of young children and toddlers in public facilities – at least in West Germany – was more the exception than the rule. Children were supposed to be reared in the family, cared for by their mothers. But today, day care centres are indispensable.

Kerkenkita in Wolfsburg Kerkenkita in Wolfsburg | Photo: SWW Architekten Thanks also to state support, cities and municipalities have long since recognised that the construction and availability of day care centres is a societal and economic necessity. No children, no growth. The educational and learning landscape is becoming a soft locational factor for businesses as well. To encourage the influx of young families, many local authorities have not only turned their attention to pedagogical quality, but have also shifted the architecture of children’s facilities to the foreground of their deliberations.

Many pedagogical innovations of the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties that emerged from the alternative nursery movement are now firmly established in kindergarten routine and are reflected in both exterior and interior spaces. Modern KiTas (day-care centres) have developed into open spaces for experiencing, playing, experimenting and as zones of free communication among different age groups. Community and individuality, the needs of the group and the interests of the individual, are promoted. The interests and feelings of the child as well as his or her identification with the community and location are given far more priority than in the past.

Feeling their own centre

Red gable ends, grey roofscapes, large windows with wide frames painted in white and standing directly above the floor, each one unique and as if set into the façade by children’s hands. The new “KerkenkiTa” of the St. Ludgeri municipality in Wolfsburg is a house for children: inviting, cheerful, life-affirming. The various rooms for children’s groups and multi-purpose rooms branch off from a large, central, light-filled room – the so-called Village Square – movement zone, meeting place and collection area at once.

Kerkenkita in Wolfsburg, Interior Kerkenkita in Wolfsburg, Interior | Photo: SWW Architekten Bright, yellow- and orange-toned summer colours dominate everywhere, with brick walls painted white, ceilings insulated with cement-bonded particleboards - also called “sauerkraut boards.” Nothing is covered up here. The materials used for construction remain visible and therefore experienceable as well. A principle that Hendrik Welp from Braunschweig, partner in SWW Architects, urban planner and member of the Association of German Architects (Bund Deutscher Architekten/ BDA) has also further developed for the utilisation of children’s rooms so to speak as a principle of the pedagogical use of space.

The “Kerken-KiTa Kids” can experience and survey the entire interior and exterior space of the building from various perspectives, and locate at any time “where I am and where the others are.” There are play areas for large and small groups. Rooms to withdraw into, niches for disguise and hiding are located on platforms reached by steps. The garden, designed by the landscape architect Thomas Mudra of Edesbüttel, is accessible by each group. Each group has its own fruit tree and small garden beds that they tend themselves. In its entirety, the architecture promises the child a manageable world, an intensive relationship with nature and the kindergarten’s immediate surroundings.

Urban ecology

Kita Göttingen, Despang Architekten Kita Göttingen, Despang Architekten | Photo: Jochen Stüber The fact that learning environments for children can be designed in an equally child-friendly and natural way with construction materials such as concrete is demonstrated by the Göttingen KiTa “Dr. Urban und Mr. Hide,” thus the working title by Despang Architects. Here, urban and natural landscape requirements are conjoined with educational and above all ecological needs. In particular, many were concerned about the preservation of the local field hamster population.

The KiTa is a building belonging to Georg August University/ Göttingen, located on the northern campus, next to the XLAB of the architects Bez + Kock, urban on one hand and modelled into the landscape at the same time. The building opens up to the south and east into the landscape with large window surfaces. From the campus side, the KiTa is visible only as a hill; to the west and north the building is embedded in the ground by means of embankments and accessible from there via a planted roof.

Here, Despang Architects succeeded in fulfilling passive house standards in KiTa construction for the second time. Primary energy consumption is only19 kWh/m² per year. The architects were assisted in their energy concept by Stefanie van Heeren of Büro Raumplan. The building utilises geothermal cooling and solar energy in a self-regulating system. Here, concrete functions as an optimised thermal storage mass. Ceilings and walls are made of prefabricated concrete components and have been left visible both indoors and outdoors.

Kita Göttingen, Despang Architekten Kita Göttingen, Despang Architekten | Photo: Jochen Stüber An abundance of light, coming also from roof-lights, streams through and gives the building a soft, velvety appearance. Spaces for play, living and sleeping, music rooms and hallways designed and furnished in a variety of ways, all convey new experiential worlds to children. Furniture, doors and all trim-work are of light spruce wood. The flooring is linoleum, with fine interspersings of genuine aluminium. “It glitters like a starry sky on water at night,” thus architect Martin Despang. Apart from the aspects of ecology and energy conservation, discovering and experiencing space is the architects’ guiding principle. They conceive of their building as a “bioclimatic constructional mechanism,” that - as Martin Despang puts it – will hopefully appear to both nature and human beings as self-evident.