Kindergarten in Helsinki, Finland

This proposal for a new kindergarten in the district of Taka-Töölö envisions a meaningful background to the existing historic villa; a neighbor which is serene and yet appropriately contrasts with it. A main portion of the building footprint—deliberately parallel to the façade of the villa—and the envelope’s color have been determined to that effect. At the same time, the roof massing establishes a dialogue with that of the villa as well as the nearby buildings, with said color picking up some of the dominant tones in the area, from those other roofs, to the soil on the park and the path along the marina. Through these operations, the new kindergarten appears to be naturally embedded in the context while also showcasing its public nature.

The main concept for this project involves a complete removal of corridors from the children’s activity areas by strategically arranging a layout around a string of central rooms which are connected at their opposite corners. These central rooms serve as the foyers around which the various activity rooms and bathrooms comprising each of the six activity areas are placed. Since there are no corridors at all, some of that circulation space can be added to the foyers, making them more spacious. They are no longer just a foyer. On the first floor, where each foyer is flooded with light thanks to a generous skylight, the central one divides the sequence into a cluster with two activity areas to one side, and another to the other side. Downstairs, the equivalent central foyer divides the floor into a cluster with two activity areas to one side, and the technical and community spaces for evening use to the other. A “reading stair” connecting the two levels provides an auditorium-like space for children to gather in.

As a result of this concept, the part of the building housing the activity areas—that is, most of it—is comprised of rooms only, dimensioned and linked up in such a way that they can be utilized for virtually any purpose. Multiple combinations and appropriations become possible, in line with education principles of an open learning environment. Further, while enabling maximum flexibility and reconfigurability, the layout is particularly conducive to creative use and interpretation by the children, given the number and diversity connections across the space, both physical and visual; both orthogonal and diagonal. All activity areas feature large openings toward the park in addition to low, child-scale small ones toward another orientation. Even the smallest toddlers can see outside. From the rooms on the building’s west side, there is a direct view of the play area. In contrast to a characteristic chestnut reddish of the outside, the inside is dominated by the serenity of a lighter, clear tone. The flooring’s texture and color, in continuous terrazzo, add a touch of playfulness and accentuates the connectedness of the foyers.

The building is materialized as a CLT structure which is exposed to the inside and clad in ceramic on the outside. Both timber and ceramic are known to be sustainable materials. In addition to considerations involving context, aesthetics, and the specifics of a kindergarten program, the choice of ceramic is deliberately made on the basis of the building’s energetic performance. Given the natural properties of ceramic, the envelope will capture and accumulate heat, the building’s multi-surface massing further aiding in that regard. We propose that this heat be transferred to a tube system distributing a fluid through the building and taking it to storage deposits. The kitchen and the heating system, for instance, will be able to utilize the energy provided by this system.

While the strategic position of windows ensures horizontal cross-ventilation across each floor, the skylights on the first floor feature an operable portion which will ensure vertical cross-ventilation from the ground to the first floor. Half of the building’s roof is oriented to the south for an optimal performance of the solar panels. Special care has been devoted to rainwater management when designing the outdoors areas. Terrain slopes have been determined to drive the water away from the building and the site edges. Stone swales have been laid in key segments of the site. Three open-air, small reservoirs/pools have been integrated into the landscaping for leisurely enjoyment. A tank for storing rainwater is envisioned underground. It could be used partly in connection with the building’s greywater, and/or to transfer water to a rainwater cassette for homogeneous subterranean distribution through the soil.


Location: Helsinki, Finland

Type: Kindergarten

Scale: 1.830 m2 (19,700 SF)

Status: Open Competition, 2021

Lead Team: José Aragüez and Javier Mosquera with Pablo Navas

Consultants: José Javier Martín (sustainability/energy), OMBRA (renderings)