Playtime on top of the world

by Ofentse Sefolo
Playtime on top of the world

New life has been breathed into an 18th century courtyard building in the Chaoyang district in Beijing, China. This is thanks to the innovation of Chinese architecture studio MAD, which boldly topped the ancient building’s roof with a beautifully designed children’s play area.

The new structure surrounds the historic buildings, which have been converted to become part of the kindergarten, and is topped with a bright red and orange roof.

This undulating rooftop was designed to contrast dramatically with the grey roofs of the traditional buildings and provides a large play space for the kindergarten’s children.

“While preserving the cultural heritage of the site, it forms a multi-layered urban narrative, where old and new co-exist,” said Ma Yansong, lead architect at MAD Studios.

On the southwest side of the roof, a subtly undulating surface of several small “hills” and “plains” creates a high and low terrain, forming a playful landscape.

“Unfolding onto the site with a low and gentle posture, the roof transforms the limited space between the various buildings into a colourful playground that functions as the main place for children to engage in outdoor sports and activities,” said Yansong.

While the historic buildings contain enclosed art and dance classrooms, as well as a teachers’ office and lounge, the new structure contains an open-plan teaching space for 400 children between the ages of two and five.

This space is broken by a series of courtyards that puncture the roof, some of which contain stairs, ramps and slides to get between the kindergarten and the rooftop play area.

A glass wall in the Beijing kindergarten, with corridors that have views of the historic buildings and the kindergarten, also contains a library, small theatre and gymnasium.

These spaces, together with the open-plan classroom, are connected by a wide corridor with glass walls facing towards the historic buildings. This visually connects the new structures to the 18th-century courtyard.

“This gives the children alternating views between old and new, deepening their understanding of time and dimension. In turn, the new building also has been realised to respect three ancient trees on the site,” said Yansong.

The modern and historic elements are clearly visible

The openness and richness of the design allow the children to have an objective and true comprehension of the environment that surrounds them. It offers them an understanding of history and place, and the preservation of nature, bringing an inclusiveness between the old and new design – one that adds value to the community,” explains Yansong.

The glassed atrium envelopes the trees in a way that, while preserving their presence, also echoes the existing courtyard space, bringing the outdoors in and flooding the interior with natural sunlight.

MAD hopes that the clear relationship between the historic and modern elements of the school, which also incorporates a 1990s low-rise block, will help the young children to better understand their surroundings.

Project information
Project credits: Photography is by Hufton + Crow.
Architecture studio: MAD.
Architects: Ma Yansong, Dang Qun and Yosuke Hayano.
Design team: He Wei, Fu Changrui, Xiao Ying, Fu Xiaoyi, Chen Hungpin, Yin Jianfeng, Zhao Meng, Yang Xuebing, Kazushi Miyamoto, Dmitry Seregin, Zhang Long, Ben Yuqiang, Cao Xi, Ma Yue and Hiroki Fujino.
Client: Yuecheng Group.
Executive architect: China Academy of Building Research.
Interior design: MAD Architects, Supercloud Studio.
Landscape architect: MAD, ECOLAND Planning and Design Corporation.

With acknowledgment and thanks to www.dezeen.com for the information contained in this article.

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