The kindergarten project: between functionality and pedagogy
The spatial conformation of the built environment has always been linked to the socio-political characteristics of time and physical location. Specifically, over the years, the construction of nursery schools and kindergartens
has been modeled on the contingent needs and pedagogical schemes of the preschool sector. It is necessary to clarify how the design of the teaching space significantly affects the development of the child in the developmental age and determines the quality of the social interactions. However, for too many years, the facilities intended for the education of children have been designed with little attention to psychological well-being, since they are considered mere material containers capable of making up for the lack of mothers engaged in industrial labor. In fact, the first examples of children's institutions date back to the 19th century, a period affected by the industrial revolution, during which new needs arose within the family context. These needs were social and political but not educational for the little ones and for this reason, the quality of the colleges was not originally considered a top priority. Consequently, the structures consisted of large rooms, not suitable for children, with poor lighting and above all overcrowded. These were places on which mothers could rely to leave their children but where the latter lived in an unhealthy and uneducational situation. Despite this, in the mid-1800s in England, Germany and Italy there is a greater commitment to improve the conditions of these structures, through the intervention of psychologists and pedagogues, including Ferrante Aporti, a pioneer of the education system for children, who made to build some deserving kindergartens, destined for the poorer segments of the population.
These solutions represented a novelty, as many nursery schools of the period were private and therefore not accessible to everyone. Although the first steps were being taken towards the use of more valuable construction principles, it will take several decades to reach a radical change, also determined by the indispensable contribution of the Montessori educational method
which will significantly change the design of the physical space aimed at the child
. During the early 1900s, O.M.N.I. (National work for the protection of Maternity and Childhood) at the behest of the governments of the time, willing to encourage population growth and provide assistance to families. Given the nature of the welfare type, the spatial configuration of the structures was closer to that of hospitals rather than that of today's kindergartens. In fact, we found ourselves in front of impersonal buildings, oversized and with high-rise environments, where many children were gathered. The nursery schools in question did not provide for a subdivision of the spaces according to the age of the child but were characterized by rooms for the consumption of meals and for rest and restrooms. In addition, children could not move freely from one environment to another and therefore any form of autonomy and interaction with the physical space was excluded. For these reasons, as they were not designed with care for the psycho-physical well-being of infants, kindergartens risked being lived with discomfort and bewilderment by small users.
In Italy a great contribution was made by Giuseppe Terragni
with the kindergarten of Sant’Elia in Como
, one of the first examples that stood out for the attention to detail, studied with a view to the welfare and safety of the recipients.
Built between 1936 and 1937, it has a C-shaped planimetric configuration that recreates an internal courtyard that can be used as an open-air classroom.
Plan of the Sant’Elia kindergarten, Giuseppe Terragni, 1936-37 (Click on the image to purchase the drawings of the project in dwg)
Particular attention has been paid to thermal comfort through the insertion of mobile curtains that protect the south-facing windows from excessive sunlight. Furthermore, the structure was conceived to favor the fluidity ratio between the internal environments, thanks to the movable walls that divide the classrooms and the continuity between the internal and external space.
View of the open outdoor area - Asilo Sant’Elia, Giuseppe Terragni
Photo by Daniel Dunham https://www.flickr.com/photos/ffenestr/
Another worthy example of those years is the Olivetti kindergarten located in Ivrea, designed by architects Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini
, built in 1941.
The building consists of a regular body immersed in the greenery of the surrounding space, while in a contiguous position there is a porticoed outdoor play area.
Prospect and internal outdoor area - Asilo Villaggio Olivetti, Figini-Pollini, 1941
Here too there is the concept of continuum between inside and outside thanks to which the freedom of movement of children is promoted. It is one of the first realizations of company kindergarten, a new building typology that will be regulated by a special law established on August 26, 1950. The new buildings welcome children of different age groups and foresee a planimetric organization including every environment considered primary importance from a functional point of view. The interiors are in fact divided into: reception areas, recreational classrooms, rest rooms, canteen and toilets, differentiated between children, internal staff and visitors.
With the passage of time, the concept of space dedicated to children develops and develops a new idea of an educational structure that finds its maximum diffusion in the 80s. Starting from this period, in fact, the optimal characteristics that kindergartens must possess from a dimensional, functional and aesthetic point of view will be defined, in order to meet the needs of children and guarantee them a good level of comfort and safety.
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