It's never too early to start training the next generation of urbanists. If kindergartens can teach basic social skills like listening and sharing, why not do it in a space that teaches civic engagement and environmental responsibility, too? The architectural firm Arhis has revealed a stunning concept for a kindergarten in Riga, Latvia, that hopes to instill a greater sense of community in 5-year-olds.
The concept is built around the center of kindergarten life--the playground. Or, more accurately, a public park, which is designed to integrate with the rest of the city's plan. While the extra real estate provides endless opportunities for recreational activities, it also prevents them from being educated in a bubble: Here the children have the opportunity to interact with society at large, engaging as needed with local residents who have come by to use the sports fields and play areas.
A grassy ramp that reaches over some of the buildings bridges the public space with an enclosed, private, outdoor area, where the kindergarten can function more like a traditional school. The basic academic facilities like a swimming pool, gym, and cafeteria spill out into a courtyard area which serves as an outdoor classroom for students. The classrooms themselves are organized by age groups as a series of irregularly shaped buildings which ring the courtyard area. And would you look at those slides!
One thing that's striking about the concept is the use of green space and natural light. Instead of the dingy corridors and fluorescent lighting that we associate with a school, most of the exchanges between classrooms require a walk outside, through a grassy yard.
Of course, this would never go over in the U.S., where we prefer to keep our students sequestered inside massive chain link fences and behind the walls of metal detectors. While this might seem like an Amber Alert in the making for some parents, it's actually a brilliant way to allow young kids to begin socializing -- with supervision, of course -- with the world at large. One could imagine if local residents felt welcomed in the school context, they might be more willing to volunteer or get involved. And for the students, it's a win-win. Being exposed to all kinds of people and situations during the course of the school day offers more opportunities for learning. And that could never be a bad thing.