Co.Design

A School That Connects Kids to Music and Nature

A nursery school in Japan proves that it's never too early to introduce students to the arts.


"A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood." --Rachel Carson

Tetsuya Matsui and Tomoko Murata of UZU Architects collaborated with two artists, Shintaro Yoshimura and Naomi Ito to capture the child's world of beauty and wonder in the design of the Ontonoha nursery school. Using the metaphor of a tree with notes, UZU Architecture designed a nursery school that connects children to music and nature.

This connectedness to nature goes beyond the metaphor as the architecture of the nursery is sculpted to gracefully merge into the Earth and create an exterior terrace that connects to the center of learning environment. From any vantage position inside the nursery, the children are constantly connected to nature -- to the outside, through the openness and flow of the learning spaces.

Surrounding the building are lush rice fields, illustrating for the children the source of their sustenance. The proximity of the fields forges an intimate relationship and understanding often glossed over during modern production on a massive scale.

The interior spaces are ethereal, enveloping the children in the space between heaven and earth. Light filters in through vast skylights and pours down from high ceilings. Hanging paper lanterns suggest clouds and celestial bodies. Intermediary textiles and beams create smaller, snugger spaces for learning.

Such design reveals the capacity of a marriage between nature and the built environment. The union connects knowledge and experience magically, subtly and inherently, reminding us of our place in the fragile ecosystem of our planet. It is learning environments like this that can preserve the fresh wonder and excitement that Rachel Carson describes. Imagine what sort of world adults with a strong sense of curiosity and appreciation can create.

[Photos by Akiyoshi Fukuzawa]

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