A Pedagogical Design

Project: Jacarandà, Milan, Italy

Architects: Labics, Italy

The architecture studio has designed a new educational space in a central area of Milan, Italy. It consists of a nursery and a kindergarten, together with a sports centre with three swimming pools: an articulated structure, not conceived as a mere container of activities, but characterized by the simultaneous presence of public, semi-public and private spaces all brought into a remarkable pre-existing reinforced concrete structure. In the centre is an agora which, like in a small town, becomes the place where the inhabitants—the children and the educators—meet, get to know each other and live. Designed in collaboration with Reggio Children, the school was inaugurated in September 2018.

In the structure of an old car showroom

The educational and recreational programmes are hosted in a building from the 1950s, originally built as a car sales hall with a garage. Located along Corso Sempione, in a private pedestrian street, the school is located centrally in the city of Milan and enjoys an unusual condition, conducive to the realization of an original architectural project.

When the property acquired the building, the large vaulted structure and the adjoining spaces had not been in use for some time. The decision to recover these spaces and to use them for new didactic functions was the premise for a unique intervention. In fact, beyond the original industrial connotation, the building had all the characteristics necessary to accommodate a kindergarten. The above ground floor, airy and open, immediately proved to be an ideal setting for new educational functions inspired by the desire to reinterpret the theme of public space. No less surprising was the renovation of the basement, once used as a mechanical repair shop and garage and now dedicated to sport.

For a participatory educational space

The outcome of the architects’ collaboration with Reggio Children, already successfully tested within their MAST project in Bologna, Jacarandà reflects the aims and principles identified by the institution specializing in primary education. For this reason, the values of sharing and participation are placed at the centre of the project.

A high-profile architectural and pedagogical structure is the result of the project. This new intervention by the architects is supported by the desire to offer children, aged between six months and six years, a new space for meeting, research and discovery, involving their knowledge, their creativity and the wonder of learning, in a bilingual educational context. All this in a hospitable environment designed for a participatory education, oriented to the daily relationship between children, teachers and parents.

The project is structured around the agora

Characterized by the coexistence of public, semi-public and private spaces, arranged in continuity with each other, this children’s centre incorporates the structure of a city whose inhabitants—children and educators—meet and share spaces. The various educational sections overlook the large, bright and transparent agora, the real heart of the project: a double height volume, centre of spatial organization and distribution of horizontal and vertical paths that extend over 2,100sq m.

The agora is at the same time an atrium, a place of informal meeting and socialization, a place for collective functions. Here, the life of the children unfolds. From this place it is possible to look towards all the spaces of the project: the classrooms, the laboratories and the didactic environments overlook it through extended glass surfaces that allow the gaze and the light to pass through. All the classrooms are equipped with large open spaces where children can play and continue the educational experience in the open air, in contact with nature.

Guided by the desire to preserve the identity of the original building, which is primarily characterized by a continuous and very bright environment, the architects chose to place the kindergarten classrooms on the first floor, building three suspended bridges that follow the pace of the structure made of reinforced concrete arches. These bridges, suspended by tie rods made of steel plates, allow light to flow inside and bear witness to the space in its original configuration.

The basement accommodates three swimming pools which, accessible to the public through
an independent entrance, can also be used by school children at dedicated times. The materials used for the envelope meet the desire to preserve and leave in evidence the industrial identity of the building, an identity that is based essentially on the morphology of space, continuous and very bright, and on the coincidence between space and structure. In this sense, the materials respect an essential language: resin floors, plastered walls, aluminium windows and doors, steel structures, large open windows. On the contrary, the furnishings, designed by the architects in collaboration with Play+, favoured materials that were less abstract, more colourful, and almost tactile.

A true urban system

In direct connection with the classrooms on the first floor, a terraced area on the roof of a part of the building covers 600sq m. It is used as a play ground and equipped with movable furniture, plants and small educational gardens.

In addition to these spaces, along the path that connects the kindergarten with the sports centre, one finds, in sequence: a small outdoor theatre, designed to be used mainly by the kindergarten for performances or collective activities; a covered space designed to accommodate tables and chairs. It is the last public space open to the city and directly connected to the swimming pools. Two large circular holes connect this space with the terrace of the kindergarten, where the presence of two trees recalls the name of the complex: ‘Jacarandà’ is in fact a tropical tree that grows in Argentina, the country of origin of the family that conceived the whole project.

All this gives shape to a continuous system of open and covered spaces, a real urban system that connects Corso Sempione, where the entrance to the kindergarten is located, with Via Procaccini, from where one can access the swimming pools.

Photo credit: Marco Cappelletti and Delfino Sisto Legnani

Factfile

Client: Scuola Innovativa Srl

Design Team: Maria Claudia Clemente, Francesco Isidori

Project Manager: Sara Sosio, Labics

Consultants: Studio Speri (Structural); Raffaele Gragnaniello (Mechanical)

Construction site supervision: Carlo Tonelli

Size: 21,500sq ft

Year of completion: 2019