The construction site of the Higashimuraya Musashino Nursery is located in a residential area at the foot of wooded Sayama Hills in the west of Tokyo. Surrounded by patches of trees and brush, this is a place where you can feel close to the blended landscape of human habitation and nature. Taking the opportunity of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Higashimurayama Musashino Kindergarten, a day-care center was newly built to enhance the environment as a certified nursery.
The trees that were planted on the south side of the yard when the kindergarten was founded have continued to watch over the daily life and growth of many children for 40 years. Stretching up into the sky, they seem to be tenderly embracing children with their branches and leaves. They create a space where children can feel and experience various natural events both physically and emotionally, while freely playing under the sunshine that filters through foliage of such trees as Japanese zelkova, camphor tree, oak tree, magnolia, and maple.
The nursery which was designed to be located on the south side of the woods is not solely for children. It supports parents and family members as well. Therefore, we were requested to create an environment that not only children but also adults including nursery teachers would find comfortable, which would help build a bond of happiness between the three parties, and in which parents could leave their children with peace-of-mind.
With the playground yard at the center, the existing kindergarten had a kindergarten building on the north stretching from east to west, a gymnasium on the west, another building on the east for temporary childcare and extracurricular study, and the above-mentioned woods on the south. The yard is loosely surrounded by each building and the woods, and standing there gives the sense of being comfortably embraced in an encompassing space that was created over the course of time. In planning this additional nursery building, we decided to maximize the impression of extensive space. To do this, we made a focused effort to further develop the transparent spaciousness of the site which is tenderly embraced by kindergarten buildings and trees but which is still connected with the surrounding world that is created by the configuration of the existing buildings, yard, and woods.
Considering the overall site plan of Higashimuraya Musashino Nursery, we decided to create a transparent living space for children encircling a new patio on the south side of the woods in order to enhance the existing spaciousness featuring the big yard. The sequence of facilities runs north to south from the existing kindergarten building, kindergarten yard as playground, another kindergarten yard in the woods, nursery lunch room, patio, and the south building containing nursery rooms. The individual characteristics of place and space as well as the transparency of each specific element have been designed to remain intact, and expansive space characteristics of the entire site leading to the outer world can be felt from any location.
In order to ensure a stable living space for children protected from the hustle and bustle and eyes of the outside world, a wall stretching from north to south was installed adjoining the East Parking Lot. An opening in the wall functions as the gate to Higashimurayama Musashino Nursery that integrates the independent kindergarten and nursery.
We intentionally tiled the wall in subdued color tones and textures so that they may blend into the place over time and so that the children’s memories woven into the walls remain into the future. The outside environment and the children’s wooded world are connected through a big walled gate. From at the approach, the branches of trees visible above the wall conjure an image of the woods. If you stroll towards the wall, you can see an expansive space that spreads out at the foot of the trees. Once you step inside the wall, you have a wider view, and you find yourself in a rich, natural environment in which both kindergarten and nursery children live freely where nature and people mingle.
The nursery on the south side of the woods is built in a circuit style, encircling a patio with a fir tree, a slide, a miniature hill, and a sandbox. We created an environment highly transparent with almost no blind spots that is safe, comfortably open, warmly encompassing, and pleasant even for adults.
In the entrance hall, corridor, and the nursery room surrounding the patio, you can always feel soft light and a slight breeze sweeping in and out of the building. Lining the woods outdoors, the lunchroom ceiling extends over the room at a height of two stories, so you can enjoy a meal or attend a meeting against the backdrop of a fir tree and plants and a fun slide in the brightly-sunlit lawn patio, while feeling the branches of Japanese zelkova swaying in the wind. It offers both children and adults a liberating and fulfilling experience.
When the weather is serene and calm, the openings on the three sides can be thrown open to use the terrace that stretches to the southern patio and to the northern woods to have a dinner or put on a play or concert against the backdrop of the woods.
The beginning of the day is the busiest time at the nursery. Although both parents and children hastily arriving at the nursery before work tend to be physically and mentally tense, as they walk up to the gate, they are softened by the morning sunshine on their shoulders. By the time parents and children go through the gate and come into the entrance hall, having been invigorated by the woods and greeted by the nursery teachers, their faces feature smiles. Our idea was to orchestrate a continuum of space that can create such an atmosphere.
A good-sized entrance hall that directs eyes to the patio and woods was secured, and an aquarium was placed there. When children stand at the entrance hall, their line of sight is directed through the patio to the nursery room, where they spend most of their time, and they are spontaneously prompted to make a move. The stairs ahead of them lit by the sunlight shining from above also invite them to the second floor. That is how their day begins.
Parents, feeling tired both physically and mentally after a day’s work, come to pick up their children between late afternoon and night. As twilight begins to deepen, warm lights start to illuminate the entire nursery, creating a calm atmosphere. They also warm the children’s hearts just when they start to feel a little lonely. The lights seep through to the outside, soften the hearts of the parents who are in a rush to pick up their children, and welcome them into the inner space. We designed this scene with a view to making the meeting of parent and child a joyous experience.
The nursery is not only for children who actively engage in various activities during the day. We thought that it was important to design a space where the children, parents, and nursery teachers can peacefully share enjoyable and happy times from morning to night.
In planning this nursery, we went beyond the design of a nursery building. We tried to create a place where people can feel the change in the seasons, where they can always take notice of day-to-day weather, of how the sun and clouds move and how beautifully the birds sing to become a space that enriches people’s sensitivity in a holistic environment with which people can continue to interact for many years to come.