Mutsu is an exceptionally beautiful place. Beauty is found in every nook and cranny of the Shimokita Peninsula so the particular charm of Mutsu is part of its inhabitants’ everyday life. The town is charming in many ways, but what I found particularly striking was the shape of the coastline as it sweeps up toward the faraway mountains.
▼ 幼儿园令人瞩目的椭圆形屋顶，eye-catching elliptical roof of Yoshino Nursery School ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
The elliptical roof of Yoshino Nursery School, with graceful curves that touch the ground only at its very southern end, echoes that of the Shimokita coastline. At the ground-level point, it is possible to step onto the roof and climb to the top. With some effort, even a wheelchair can ascend the roof’s gentle 1:12 incline. The incline is only 8 percent, no more than that of regular roads. Even this minor slope elicits a positive response from the children. Children who are not inspired to move when on ground level suddenly begin to run about. Parents will know what happens when children who are just learning to walk step onto a slanting surface for the first time: their faces light up, and they toddle right ahead on wobbly little legs. In the natural world, perfectly flat surfaces are actually very rare. Slopes are much more natural.
▼ 孩子们在椭圆形屋顶上玩耍，children playing on the endless elliptical roof ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
The roof of the nursery school is an ellipse. An ellipse has no beginning, and especially no end. Children adore spaces where they can run in endless circles, with no particular goal in mind. In this, they are much like puppies who chase their own tails for hours; the need to run around and around is part of a child’s collective memory, something they are born with, not taught. Children move according to certain patterns. If their environment is adapted to those patterns, children will start to move about naturally, without any prompting. Children adore circuits that never end; any parent will have had the opportunity to find this out. Fuji Kindergarten is located in Tachikawa, a town that is part of Tokyo. It does not have the sloping roof that Yoshino Nursery School can boast, but the children who attend Fuji Kindergarten are nonetheless known for their aptitude in physical exercise. During the morning period alone, the children walk and run a total distance of four kilometers on average. Meanwhile, in most nursery facilities, children run about 800 meters. This means that students at Fuji Kindergarten run five times more than the average child.
▼ 适宜儿童活动的橡胶铺装，soft-rubber-covered roof is suitable for children’s activities ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
The roof of the school is covered with soft rubber. While children are still learning how to balance their bodies, they often fall over. A fall resulting in a few scrapes is not a problem; indeed, it is part of the learning process. However, thoughtful planning is needed to prevent further injuries. In current times, adults, notably parents, do everything to keep the precious children from getting hurt. When children are overly protected, however, they miss out on chances for crucial learning moments. The roof of Yoshino Nursery School is a training instrument where children are gently challenged in a safe environment.
▼ 屋顶倾角剖面图，Section of roof slopes
The roof slopes down toward the south, making the whole surface slightly warmer than it would be if the roof were level. The roof’s 1:12 incline makes for no more than a 4.5-degree angle, but it is this angle that helps the roof catch about as much warmth from the sun as one would feel in Utsunomiya. Sloping surfaces are also easy to sit down on. When sitting on a sloping surface, people always put their feet towards the lower end. This sounds like a very self-evident thing to mention, but this “obvious” behavior results in adorable scenes of children sitting together with their friends. Slopes also encourage children to play in the snow in winter. After the first snow has fallen, the town rings with the happy shouts of children sledding.
▼ 幼儿园的外部活动空间，the external activity space ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
Our involvement with Yoshino Nursery School began when we visited the forest that had been planted along the local Ōhata train line in order to shield the tracks from the elements. Over many years, the trees in the forest had grown tall and strong. Unfortunately, they could not be used for the construction of the nursery school because logging and preparing the trees for construction would have been too difficult at the time. Although it proved impossible to use local trees, the nursery was planned as a wooden building from the start. The structure of the building is made entirely of wood. As a building material, wood is both new, and as old as time. In these days of steel frames and reinforced concrete, wood sounds like a cheap alternative at best. Throughout history, however, wooden structures have proved to be remarkably resilient. The famous thousand-year-old buildings in Nara are all made of wood. More recent historical buildings are virtually all made of wood as well. Meanwhile, it is literally impossible to find a reinforced concrete building that has lasted over a hundred years. With modern-day building techniques, constructing wooden buildings that can withstand almost any earthquake is no longer a dream. But the beauty of wooden structures really shines when their building materials are left exposed. Unlike steel or reinforced concrete, wood is warm and pleasant to the touch. Children will climb wooden pillars because the material feels so nice. They would never do the same with cold steel or concrete. Wooden pillars also age beautifully, absorbing the marks left by hundreds of little hands as if the material itself is recording its own history.
▼ 使用地暖供热的空间，underfloor heating system is adopted the space ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
The building is insulated by the ‘ondol’ system of underfloor heating. Humans have known this ancient technique since the time of ancient Rome. Warm air is blown under the floors, heating from the underside up. One benefit of ‘ondol’ heating is that it can warm up a room faster than water heating. Unlike electrical heating, the ‘ondol’ system does not involve warming any part of a tangible heater, eliminating the risk of burning children’s hands. The system uses heat pumps as a source of heat. A heat pump moves excess heat out of a colder space to warm a different space. Compared to a boiler that has to use energy to generate the heat necessary to warm a room, the ‘ondol’ system is more environmentally and user friendly.
▼ 在教室里玩耍的孩子们，kids playing in the classroom ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
The shape of the Yoshino Nursery School building is unique in Japan. It is the result of a long thought process about how to integrate both the environment of Mutsu and the natural ways in which children move. I hope that over the next hundred years, this nursery school will stand as a beloved asset of the community–a home for Mutsu’s future children.
▼ 在教室里玩耍的孩子们，kids playing in the classroom ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
▼ 裸露的木质材料，温暖室内空间，exposed wooden structures and warm ©Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
▼ 建设中的吉野幼儿园，Yoshino Nursery School and Kindergarten in construction ©Tezuka Architects
▼ 总平面图，Master Plan
▼ 细部设计，Detail design
Project Name: Yoshino Nursery School and Kindergarten
Location: Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Site area: 2975.00 sqm
Building area: 1004.84 sqm
Total floor area: 862.15 sqm
Completion Date: 2015.9
Design team: TEZUKA ARCHITECTS
Photographer: Katsuhisa Kida/FOTOTECA
Award: 2009 Japan Institute of Architects Prize; 2011 The Best of All, OECD/CELE 4th Compendium of Exemplary Educational Facilities