For his first project in Japan, Ma Yansong of MAD Architects has converted a two-storey house into a kindergarten, and the results are as playful as you might expect from an architect who loves to challenge the status quo.
Called Clover House and located in Okazaki, the all-white school is surrounded by mountains and rice paddy fields that are characteristic of the Aichi Prefecture, a mostly rural area that lies 240 kilometres southwest of Tokyo. The house was already operating as a preschool, but the owners wanted to modernize the building to create an environment that felt more like a home for the students while also expanding the educational curriculum.
Instead of building from scratch, the firm decided to keep the original 105-square-metre wooden structure in memory of the soul of the space. Like the surrounding houses, the building was first constructed as a standard prefabricated house. MAD decided to recycle the existing structure into a new design.
The original wooden structure is now prominently featured in the main learning area of Clover House, where it can easily adapt to different teaching activities. The windows, shaped in various geometries that are recognizable to a child’s eye, let in sunlight and ever-changing shadows.
“We have designed the building from a child’s point of view, and the layout focusses on creating intimate and diverse spaces,” says the architect, who is best known for building such iconic and large-scale structures as the China Wood Sculpture Museum and Harbin Opera House, both located in Harbin, China.
The skin wrapping the original wooden structure is like a piece of cloth covering the building’s skeleton. According to the firm: “The starting point of Clover House is the signature pitched roof. This repurposed element creates dynamic interior spaces, and recalls the owners’ memories of the building as their home. The form also brings to mind a magical cave or a pop-up fort.”
What will likely appeal to the students most is the outdoor slide that descends from the second floor to the play area and an open courtyard in front of the building. Says Ma, “We wanted to create a piece of architecture that would stay in the memory of the kids when they have grown up.”