Photo: Tezuka Architects

Fuji Montessori Kindergarten (Fuji Yochien)  in the Tokyo suburb of Tachikawa, a new Montessori nursery and kindergarten school catering for children from two to six years of age, moved into innovative new architect-designed premises in 2007. The nursery-cum-kindergarten is different from usual nurseries because it receives no public funds and it serves children of both working and nonworking parents.

Despite being the largest Kindergarten in Japan, Fuji Montessori Kindergarten (Fuji Yochien) is the most talked about and most envied kindergarten in Japan. .. this is because Fuji is without doubt the most beautiful and child-friendly childcare space in this land where schools are often drab, standardized and grey concrete blocks.

Winning multiple architectural design awards, Fuji’s school building’s most celebrated and captivating aspect – is its “doughnut ring”-rooftop that encloses an internal courtyard space. The rooftop is really an oval-shaped play deck that is used for free play and exploration, but can be adapted for more formal functions such as assemblies and other communal gatherings.  The rooftop can accommodate 500 children.

Based on the school’s Montessori philosophy, the school is designed such that it gives the impression of  a building with no walls. Classroom spaces, play areas, and support facilities merge into one. The design concept also results in the school building itself serving as a gigantic piece of play equipment.  The brainchild of Tezuka Architects, the circular design was said to be inspired by the idea that ‘Children love to run in circles’.

The ultimate effect of Fuji’s design concept is a learning environment that fosters the individual development and expression of all its pupils. The building’s distinctive form sought to support the kindergarten’s mode of operation, the Montessori education method – to provide a flexible, robust and secure framework within which to encourage key notions of independence and freedom.

The design is clearly child-centred and has many playful touches – outdoor taps that allow children to clean up and wash down (see photo); glazed rooflights that offer peephole views from between roof and classroom; the building integrates three prior existing Zelkova trees as well as a slide from the roof that provides the most direct route down from the roof.  Ceiling heights…created in the scale of a child,  are restricted to 2.1m. This stresses an extremely close relationship between the ground level and the rooftop. Pupils can interact freely between the rooftop and central garden spaces, these are aspects of the design that allow children to explore without inhibition as well as facilitating their access to nature.  These design elements satisfy the key aspect of the Montessori methodology —  satisfaction, contentment and joy are the result when children are able to fully participate in daily activities, individually and collectively, in a place where they can understand, engage with and control their own environment.

Fuji Kindergarten is a triumph in modern architectural design – its innovative design proves that school buildings serve the people who inhabit it, and that they need not be dull or institutional.

References:

Fuji Kindergarten (BNET) Running rings: Tezuka Architects’ Fuji Kindergarten leads the way Tezuka Architects: Montessori school, Tokyo, Japan.

‘Ring around a Tree’ A Beautiful Kindergarten in Fuji from The Fox is Black has great photos of the school (but has the location wrong)

Learning Curve – Britannica article (Architectural Review by Rob Gregory)

Fuji Montessori Kindergarten from Montessori Foundation Online News December 2008.(Montessori Foundation )
Fuji Kindergarten website (Fuji Kids.jp)
Fuji Kindergarten (Imagine inspirational school design website)
Fuji Kindergarten DFA Award.com
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