Feeling safe and creating space to learn is the main foundation for COBE in creating architecture for children. ‘We want to ensure your future’, states the creative director Dan Stubbergaard in this Q and A about architecture for the little people.
How do you integrate the needs of a child in your architecture?
First and foremost, we work in scale. It´s very important that the building is clear and manageable for the individual child – even though it might be a large institution with lots of children. We try to create just as many “tiny worlds” as there are kids. We designed Frederiksvej Kindergarten as 11 small houses instead of just one big house. Throughout the whole project, we focused on a simplicity that children are able to identify with. Inside the kindergarten it´s like a Babushka doll with many, many tiny houses inside it, all of which have different functionalities. For example, the place where the child sleeps during the day, that is to say the crib, is shaped like little houses. Also the kitchens of the common spaces in the kindergarten are shaped like houses, while inside the large atrium, the windows are also similar to houses – but child size in height.
How is architecture for children distinguished from architecture for adults?
Architecture for kids usually serves for adults too. Creating and building day-care institutions for children’s requirements and making them feel safe is very important. COBE is behind some of the largest day-care institutions in Copenhagen. In Kids’ City at Christianshavn, which will be the largest institution in the city accommodating 712 children, we specifically created neighbourhoods, based around age, in order to establish safety and comfort. To create a safe environment for learning we designed Kids’ City with Copenhagen as a role model. Thus, Kids’ City contains urban spaces, a park, and special buildings to create a community, such as a city hall, a library, museum, restaurant, sports court and a fire station.
Which three elements are the most important when creating architecture for children?
– That it should be inspiring, safe and incorporate learning possibilities for the kids;
– That it should be manageable for the grown-ups;
– That it should possess the necessary durability and robustness.
Please describe why architecture for children is such a big part of your portfolio
Children are our most important resource. They are our future. A lot of kids spend quite a lot of hours in day care, which is why it is crucial that we create the best possible physical surroundings to ensure a safe and inspiring childhood and support their everyday lives by offering a place for learning and creativity. In general terms, we work a lot on the specific pedagogical principles of the institution as we create the initial concept and design. This could for instance be the philosophy of Italian Reggio Emilia.
For Reggio Emilia, a profound and recurring motif is to perceive the day-care institution as a public space. A space where you have public conversations and dialogue with one another. This openness and strive for community permeates our approach to architecture for children. It is also this philosophy we applied when creating Forfatterhuset Kindergarten in the part of Noerrebro called the ”Old People’s City”. The intention was to make the building itself a kind of kindergarten teacher. With its small niches and minor common areas being very flexible, the building is able to open up to present an even larger community space, which then gives access to the great patio, from where you can interact with the outside world. The point is to give the children a safe but challenging everyday environment. Alongside this, the patio itself was also created with the principles of Reggio Emilia in mind, whereby the idea was that the kindergarten is a public space, which can be interpreted as using a transparent fence that provides visual contact between the institution and the life of city around it.
How do you incorporate and experience the user involvement in your architecture?
User involvement is essential for us, especially when it comes to architecture for children. At COBE, we genuinely believe that the user is always the expert and rarely is this more true than when creating kindergartens and day-care institutions. The process of user involvement can be somewhat time-demanding but the result is so much better and helps to create the user ownership for the final project.
Which projects of your own would you in particular wish to highlight or enhance – and why?
1. Forfatterhuset Kindergarten
The new day-care institution Forfatterhuset Kindergarten is clad in a unique brick façade, which mimes the historic surroundings of red bricks, but instead of using traditional horizontal bricks, the facade consists of vertical brick lamellae continuing as a band from house to house, and surrounding the garden and playground. Five small houses with green roof gardens provides the framework for the kindergarten. From the outside the day-care institution appears as a village for children, but from the inside coherent and efficient. This helps creating a place that is small, compact and exciting for children as well as functional and flexible in everyday life. Forfatterhuset Kindergarten is designed by COBE and was finished in 2014.
2. Frederiksvej Kindergarten
In Frederiksvej Kindergarten, the world of children meets the world of adults. The kindergarten consists of a cluster of 11 small houses built together in a garden. The houses have pitched roofs and are between 2–3 levels high. The houses mime children’s drawings. For example, we made all lines as simple as possible by hiding drains and creating precise, material connections. In addition to this, the windows were designed as if without a frame, like a kid would draw them on a piece of paper. Besides the 11 houses, which define the core of the institution, you will also find a series of minor houses for the trolleys, outside toys, etc. Frederiksvej Kindergarten is designed by COBE and was finished in 2015.
3. Kids’ City
Kids’ City at Christianshavn consists of a nursery, a kindergarten and a youth club, altogether comprising 47 units within an area of 4200 square metres. The institution will be at a triangular plot between the Christiania project and the Arsenal lake on Prinsessegade in Copenhagen. The project is about creating a city for children with different neighbourhoods, buildings, parks and urban spaces, everything with the focus on creating different experiences for children and young people of ages 0-14 years old. Kids’ City will have its own identity as a city within the city, which is why the buildings will be edgy and full of character. As an example, the day care will include a city hall, a fire station, a restaurant, an observation post, and a golden stadium on the rooftop. This will be a golden gate to Prinsessegade. Kids’ City is designed by COBE and Nord Architects and is expected to open in the Autumn of 2016.
4. The Library
The Library is an extension of an existing culture house in Copenhagen’s north-west. The golden community center is meant to resemble a pile of books. Libraries for children, teenagers and adults are split between three of the differently
shaped floors, while a concert hall sits on the top and conference and function rooms and a café/canteen fill up the existing refurbished building. The children’s library was built as a clamber landscape of green and white cubes to sit on, move around, read your favourite new book or even climb on. The library is designed by COBE and TRANSFORM and was finished in 2011.