"Free Play" Kindergarten

"Free Play" Kindergarten in Guntramsdorf, Austria by g.o.y.a., 2010

The following text and images (photos are by Kurt Hörbst) are courtesy g.o.y.a. (group of young architects).

The kindergarten is located in a grove of striking chestnut trees. Its rustic design celebrates a sense of open space and connection with its lovely environment. To meet the various needs of the children, the building is organized as a series of structures, each connected visually with the trees. Classrooms are organized around a hallway which gives onto a foyer affording floor-to-ceiling panoramic views of the encircling chestnuts.

Both classrooms and activity area branch out from the foyer which, clad in larchwood, maintains continuity with the exterior of the building. The multi-purpose foyer is accessible to the classrooms and the gymnasium. This enables classes to be conducted discretely so that different kinds of activity can take place simultaneously. For special occasions, however, the flexible dividing wall between the gymnasium and the foyer can be opened to provide a large events room.

The kindergarten’s interior harmonizes with the environment by being clad in larchwood. Load bearing walls of spruce cross-laminated timber are faced with triple layered spruce panels finished with a bright white varnish. Each classroom has a large panoramic window looking onto the chestnut trees. Windows are set at child’s-eye level with ample lower sills doubling as benches. Unlike these airy classrooms, the gallery, lit by a skylight through which the tops of trees can be glimpsed, offers a more intimate experience.

If the upright trunks of the old trees suggest strength and perseverance, these characteristics are expressed in the language of the building with its preponderance of wood. Footbridges and terraces link the classrooms, imparting a sense of well-being. Three themed play areas cluster about a garden: Balance and Equilibrium, Calm and Nature, and Sand and Water. Conceived as a low-energy building, the school is heated in winter, cooled in summer, by a ground water heat pump feeding under floor piping. CO2 concentration controlled ventilation ensures optimum air quality.