What would a high-concept museum look like if it were to be invaded by pre-schoolers? The staff and students of the Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten might soon find out. Designed by X+ Living, a firm known for its whimsical interiors, the recently completed early childhood education centre in Huzhou, China, defies expectations — while incorporating the firm’s knowledge of early childhood education.
Inspired by the museum typology, the extravagantly appointed 12,800-square-metre space aims to inspire young children to learn through “seeing as knowing,” or experiential play. The kindergarten integrates a variety of classroom types designed for specific uses, each with its own design program.
Entering through the sparkling white lobby entrance, children and parents are greeted by ethereal, cloud-like shapes and a winding, purple-carpeted staircase. The dearth of “childlike” primary colours here is no accident: Throughout the process, the designers shied away from bright hues to avoid creating distractions. Instead, the chosen palette plays with soft pastels and makes excellent use of negative space — the abundance of white walls are meant to inspire creativity.
Beyond the lobby and encircled in “clouds” formed by arches, a swimming pool shaped to recall Antoni Gaudí’s voluptuous architecture is illuminated by a hidden band of soft pink light that creates a calming atmosphere.
In another corner of the building, a showpiece auditorium appears as if plucked from a children’s fairytale. A round ceiling formed by all-white walls provides the backdrop for rows of seats in gradient hues, which seem to almost glow in contrast with their background.
A variety of learning spaces designed for specific uses are integrated into the school. A traditional classroom and a dance studio are separated only by sliding doors, allowing for multiple spatial possibilities, including merging the two into one in order to accommodate larger groups.
In the building’s attic, a play area takes advantage of high ceilings with a tall wooden climbing structure; all of its cabinets, steps and corners are rounded, or covered in a coloured pleather fabric to avoid collisions and injuries.
Finally, a “simulated city” at a child’s scale, comprised of a tiny hospital, supermarket and kitchen, rounds out the kindergarten’s exceptional amenities. Here, kids can exercise agency in play, learning about the world around them independently.
While some features of the Zi Ling Changxing Kindergarten may seem exaggerated to the adult eye, it is a space designed for developing minds. “Childhood memories are always ethereal and distant, but in the corner of our memories, subtle influences of specific places or events continue to bring energy to us as an adult,” explains X+ Living. The preschool is no place for subtlety — exuberance rules.
X+ Living brings its signature whimsy — and pedagogy— to a preschool in Zhejiang Province.