This is Fuji Kindergarten designed by well-known Japanese architect, Takaharu Tezuka (Tezuka Architects). The kindergarten is housed in a two-story, open, elliptical building. The classrooms are in a ring on the ground floor, while above is a gently sloping roof upon which the children play; in the center of the ring is a courtyard, also available to the students for play. No, its not its oval shape of the structure that makes the design different from other kindergartens. Do you know what is so unique about the design?
The design is unique in the sense there are no classrooms as there are no walls between the classes and each teacher has an area in the building that is dedicated to her class, but there are no walls between classes. In fact, the school challenges the entire notion of boundaries: classes aren’t divided by walls, and neither are indoor and outdoor areas.
It’s believed that the freedom and noise generated by the rooftop play area and open classrooms is beneficial to the students. When a child becomes restless or bored, he or she is allowed to roam. Autistic children, too, benefit from the environment. Instead of finding a hiding spot, the child can move freely between classes. The result is a surprising lack of stereotypical autistic behavior in the school, as well as an amazing aptitude for concentration in every student. The students learn to function well despite the potential distractions, and they learn how to make their own decisions with the freedom they are given.
The building’s design is also meant to expose the students to small doses of danger. While conventional thought holds that children ought to be protected from anything hazardous, at Fuji Kindergarten, students are constantly exposed to sharp corners and slightly dangerous falls. This allows students to begin learning to navigate the chaotic and often dangerous world, and they learn to help each other in the process. They learn to work together to overcome difficulties, and they become stronger and more resilient.
The roof is used as children’s main playground, though there are no merry go rounds, swings, or any other traditional outdoor play equipment. Instead, there are three trees that has grown through both the classrooms and the roof and serve as jungle gyms. Students can climb and play freely on these trees, as there are nets filling the open space between the tree and the roof that will catch the children should they fall!
The rooftop also encourages a healthy lifestyle. Children are meant to be free – anyone with experience working with kids knows that the vast majority of them love to jump around and play and explore given the opportunity. Fuji Kindergarten’s design, far from trying to control and restrain it, encourages this boundless energy. The students love to run around the rooftop – they run an average of 2.5 miles, or 4 kilometers, per day.