Issue DA86 June/July 2015
Designed by Eco-ID Architects, the Ivy Bound International School for pre-schoolers creates a learning environment with nature is at its heart.
Devoid of bright, saturated colours and cutesy forms on the building’s façade, the new Ivy Bound International School in Bangkok doesn’t reveal at first impressions its programme as a kindergarten for children up to seven years of age. Rather, its Modernist language of clean lines and volumes, large glass facades and soothing palette of mainly white paint, off-form concrete and timber brings to mind a contemporary, luxury abode set in a green oasis within the bustling Thai city.
Indeed, the project write-up states that the design does not intend “to resemble a typical school but to evoke the free-flowing and airy atmosphere of a modern gallery house…to create a school environment that has a strong sense of spatial aesthetics, much like a private home.” With the client’s aspirations for the school to adopt a progressive curriculum, the modern architectural language is perhaps relevant. The site itself used to be the location of a residential housing.
As Eco-ID Architects’ co-founder Sim Boon Yang lets on, he wanted the school to look “clean and pure”. The aforementioned material palette was chosen for this effect. The only spark of colour is in the sapphire blue-coloured mosaics that clad the swimming pool and an expansive water feature at the entrance, where children and visitors have to cross a platform over to enter the school. The latter is a manoeuvre that not only physically, but also mentally establishes the bridging of a threshold from the city’s cacophonous atmosphere into an oasis of learning.
Within the school, a feature staircase in solid ‘Teng’ timber complements the natural setting. Designed as an “art piece”, the design of screened elements cascades from level to level in a fluid motion that creates a visual break from the straight edges of the main architecture.
Elsewhere accents of timber similarly echoes the surrounding landscape the school had the opportunity to be placed within – a city-centre site with six large matured rain trees, their generous canopies lending shade and visual beauty to the school – adding warmth and tactility to the pristine shell.
Taking these trees as a cue, the architect created a C-shaped building –containing classrooms, a library, café, prospective family room, swimming and multipurpose pavilion, directors’ suite, kitchen and administrative facility – enveloping the courtyard of trees. The volumetric arrangement of these programmes loosely alludes to the stacking of children’s play blocks, as inspired by the programme, and is also done in a way to avoid disturbing the tree roots, shares Sim.
He adds that the courtyard was an additional programme that he had suggested to the client to benefit the children. It allows for outdoor play within a safe compound – an extension of the classroom environment outdoors.
A particular datum that defines the architecture is the large portal with chamfered profiles that houses mass activity rooms. It brings to mind the windows of Le Corbusier’s chapel of Notre Dame de Haut in Ronchamp. “The slanting of these profiles was to orientate the views to specific crowns of trees…we wanted to create spaces where children can easily connect to nature,” says Sim, highlighting subtle slits at the portals’ edges that “deconstruct the box form and allow unexpected glimpses to the outside.” One of these portals is located in the centre of the building and hovers on the second and third stories near the tree branches like an abstracted tree house.
In some ways, the bright colours and cartoony features that are a default in many pre-school facilities and absent here are not necessary when the many wonders and shades of nature brought so closely to the children act as a natural stimuli. The glistening quality of light though the filigree of tree leaves, the sound of birdsong and the touch the feet upon grass and earth – these experiences are lessons of sight, smell, touch, and sound that are so important in the early lives of children but in the modern world of digital experiences, also so rarely encountered.
To aid these kinds of experiences, only 50 per cent of the spaces are air-conditioned, Sim points out. “The cross ventilation affects the open common spaces and corridors and the leafy courtyards create a cool microclimate relative to the city streets outside,” he shares, on the additional boon of tropical comfort.
One naturally attributes the character of the school’s design – one with a relaxed and genteel atmosphere – to the architect’s oeuvre that contains many hospitality projects. Of course, there were also added challenges, Sim says. “To design a school is something new to us…unlike the other hospitable projects, we had to think like children, understand them and create an environment suited for them,” he says. Aside from considerations of scale, safety, service and maintenance were also emotive considerations that included imbibing the school with a sense of exploration and discovery as the children move though the school compound. Indeed, the openness and fluidity of the architecture and circulation spaces cater for this well.
Interestingly, one is wont to think that ‘micro-scale’ spaces are more apt for children. On the contrary here, are wide corridors and lofty spaces such as the double-volume dining pavilion, which allows more natural light to enter as well as the generous view of the trees. This heightens the harmony between interior and outdoor space while functionally, along the walkways, provides additional space for the display of art and for the children to run around more freely.
As the Ivy Bound International School goes to show, Eco-ID Architects is able to create sensitive architecture across localities and programmes. Sim shares that the firm continues to explore varied architectural expressions through the many geographical settings of its projects.
One other example is the master planning of Kok Zhailau Ski Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan where the cold, rather than warm, climate needs to be designed for. The project’s design is a modern interpretation of a Caravanserai due to the site’s proximity to the historical Silk Road. Another example, which is nearing completion, is in Pulau Bawah in the Anambas archipelago. “Its remote setting initiated a vision for all the resort structure to be designed entirely in bamboo, and this entailed close collaboration with specialist engineers from Bandung University and local island builders,” explains Sim.
Clearly, Eco.ID Design Consultancy has come far since being established in 1996. It is one of the many examples of local firms extending its talent to the region and it will be interesting to see how these projects continue to impact the communities they are designed for.