Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects

Text description provided by the architects. Kindergartens represent the first public space that children encounter in their growth process. The scale of the space, the flexibility of its use, and the indoor scenes and atmosphere greatly influence young children’s perceptions and cognitions, presenting a challenge for architects. Yuyao Road Kindergarten is a first-class kindergarten in Shanghai, located in the modern upscale residential area of the northwest corner of Jing’an District. Since its establishment in 1957, it has undergone a 48-year journey in preschool education. For many years, Yuyao Road Kindergarten has adhered to the principle of “everything for the children,” a philosophy that Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects also upholds in various educational buildings. Through our design, we aim to inspire children’s desire to explore and acquire knowledge, while providing them a comfort, safe place, creating a paradise that children love.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows
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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Cityscape

During the international competition phase in 2016, the atelier defeated two respected and strong competitors from Shanghai to win first place. However, ALYA did not participate in the subsequent detailed planning phase, and only learned through an online government announcement in 2018 that the project was about to commence construction. The kindergarten was completed in the spring of 2020, and it was not until late spring of 2024 that the ALYA team was officially able to revisit the site. Although the project had once filled the team with high expectations and later a sense of regret, it still embodies the strong gene of ALYA as the second implemented kindergarten project. During the revisit, Ms. Tan Yanwen, the principal of the kindergarten, and Mr. Liu Yuyang, along with his atelier’s team, had an in-depth discussion about various design details and usage scenarios after the kindergarten was put into operation. The team marveled that truly good design is not only about having a clear strategy for the building itself and leaving enough flexibility in the spatial framework, but also about continuously improving through the daily experiences of its users.

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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Cityscape, Facade

Urban and Interface: Micro-Alleyways. The kindergarten is located on Haifang Road, shaded by plane trees in the northwest corner of Jing’an District. Over years of urban transitions, old alleys, multi-storey residential areas, high-rise buildings, and shops have formed a strongly collage-like urban interface around the site, documenting history and change. Across Haifang Road from Yuyao Road Kindergarten is a complex of alleyway buildings. These alleyways are among the most representative of living and public spaces in Shanghai, resembling micro-communities that condense life, architecture, and people together. Haifang Road’s rich urban interface and human traffic resemble an enlarged version of the alleyways. The interactions between buildings, between people and buildings, and among people themselves are close-knit. The texture that has settled over the course of historical changes gives it a unique human touch and cultural charm.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Facade
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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Facade

Inspired by this, in designing the Yuyao Road Kindergarten, we approached from a humanistic perspective and reexamined its relationship with the city, which led us to propose the concept that campus buildings are “micro-alleyways.” –The design should focus on the volume of the buildings and their connection to the ground, bringing them back to a human scale; it emphasizes the rhythmic changes in the street interface, showcasing an attitude of interaction; and it involves choosing appropriate materials and colors that convey a temperament that aligns with its own identity. The kindergarten building is composed of three floors, and its modular volume further reduces the sense of scale. The facade features a color combination of dark green and grass green, blending seamlessly with the plane trees along the road. In a city that has entered the era of megastructures, this design preserves a sense of nature and innocence.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography
Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography, Table, Chair

Concept and Analysis: Enlightened Geometry. The study of geometry, including shapes, sizes, positions, orientations, and movements, describes the real world we live in. Juanita V. Copley, “The Young Child and Mathematics”. In recent years, the functional configuration standards for kindergartens have developed into mature norms. Under the influence of these standards, the design of many kindergartens has become increasingly homogenized. On the other hand, during the research phase, the design team also discovered that informal spaces, such as corridors in front of activity rooms, often serve as crucial places for children to live, socialize, and play. Just like the Tangram puzzle game, based on the “Enlightenment Geometry” strategy, the design moves from “standardization” to “modularization.” The traditional configuration of eight activity rooms is transformed into more flexible combination modules, which is then extended to the entire building. The movements of the walls advancing and receding create a rich and varied spatial hierarchy, providing expandable teaching and activity spaces for teachers and students.

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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography

The kindergarten’s irregular hexagonal units, inspired by a honeycomb, metaphorically represent the collective wisdom that comes from human collaboration. The honeycomb spirit symbolizes cooperation, dedication, and sharing, also reflecting the mutual help among teachers and students at Yuyao Road Kindergarten. This design creates a dynamic and natural living and learning space for children, releasing their innocent imaginations into reality and sketching the realms of their dreams with practical techniques. It uses colors and scenes to awaken the children’s sense of wonder, allowing them to fully feel geniality and love as they grow. During the kindergarten’s revisit, we also documented the completed floor plan and compared it with the initial design phase’s plan. Although some noticeable adjustments were made, the design still adhered to the hexagonal unit-based “Enlightened Geometry” strategy.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography, Dining room, Table, Shelving, Chair
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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography

Site and Space: Play Boundaries. For children, a line or a circle can become a “key” to discovering the world. The courtyard of the “C”-shaped building layout, the geometric zigzag of the exterior walls, and the landscaped micro-terrain……all start with perceivable geometry and then dissolve into organic nature. Public activity areas, class-specific activity fields, and rooftop nurseries are interspersed in this manner, woven into the architecture and landscape.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography, Windows
Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography

Site and Space: Guarding Distance. Ensuring the safety of students is a responsibility shared by schools and society, but safety does not equate to isolation, and guarding does not mean merely watching over. Creating multidimensional boundaries between the community and the campus allows for establishing a suitable “guarding distance” between parents, the community, and students, finding a compatible way for safety and integration. The dimensions of campus boundaries vary, and so do the design strategies.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography, Windows
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Given the uniqueness of the early childhood stage, the configuration of spaces requires not only safety but also a sense of security. The integration of the first-floor lobby with expanded corridors provides additional activity space for teachers and students, and the clear lines of sight to the exterior allow teachers to easily supervise the children; the corridors on the second and third floors feature interactive built-in cabinetry that serves dual functions of rest and display. Activity rooms have recessed vestibules for buffering; the activity room units, with semi-separated activity rooms and bedrooms divided by movable partitions, can be used independently or jointly, suitable for various living and teaching scenarios.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Facade
Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Facade

Project Revisit and Dialogue Sharing. On the day of the revisit, Principal Tan, Mr. Liu Yuyang, and the atelier’s team conducted an in-depth on-site examination of various design details from the kindergarten’s entrance to the rooftop vegetable garden, followed by an hour-long dialogue discussing the scenarios since the kindergarten’s inauguration. Regarding the site itself, Mr. Liu recalled being attracted by the complex and rich urban interface during his initial visit. Building such a small-scale, welcoming kindergarten amidst skyscrapers and alleyways, Principal Tan views the kindergarten building as a continuation of the city’s historical context.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows
Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows

While walking through the outdoor activity area, Principal Tan explained to the team that the kindergarten dedicates two hours daily to outdoor sports and games. The ground is covered with different materials such as composite wood decking and grass, providing various tactile experiences for the children: a rich and varied design that cultivates their understanding of the world and enhances sensory development. As they walked through the corridors, the height and decorations of the wainscoting on either side prompted the atelier’s team to consider the necessity of designing with the growth and habits of young children in mind. Wu Congbao, project director and associate partner at ALYA, noted that unlike designs for primary and secondary schools where the scale of design is considered down to every square meter, kindergarten design must consider every square centimeter. Kindergartens are not just schools for young children; they are places where children live, learn, and grow, and every space and detail can influence their perception of the world.

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Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Interior Photography, Facade, Windows

During the revisit, the team also noticed many additional railings and protective nets on the stairs. This was due to a discrepancy between the building standards used for reference during the design phase and those required by the education bureau, a crucial consideration for future kindergarten projects. When visiting the bedroom space, Principal Tan demonstrated the pull-out beds and how they are adapted to the space’s height: in the morning, the bedrooms and adjoining activity rooms serve dual functions as classrooms, and in the afternoon, the pull-out beds are deployed, transforming the space into a bedroom. Principal Tan explained that around 2021, other kindergartens had briefly used the building before Yuyao Road Kindergarten officially moved in. Therefore, as the principal, she and her team made independent design choices for the soft furnishings, leading to the current arrangement. The design of a building is not only the product of traditional architects and interior designers but also shaped by its users.

Jing'an Yuyao Road Kindergarten Branch / Atelier Liu Yuyang Architects - Exterior Photography, Windows, Cityscape

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