Lynch Architects

'Tezuka part 2' in: The Architects' Journal by Patrick Lynch

22 May 2008

And then they do it again! Forming an oval courtyard, Tezuka architects’ Kindergarten in Tokyo is another of those projects that you wished you’d done yourself. It’s just been published (Detail May-June 2008) along with an excellent essay by the architects entitled ‘What we’d like to teach the children with this building is plain common sense.’ The wonderful sketches that illustrate the article appear to have been the working drawings. It seems have been great fun to do, and certainly looks like a fun place to be in – the big kid in you wants to join in running round the roof and jumping at trees. Although the architects admit that the complex geometry caused a headache for their assistants and for the builders, its elegantly distorted formal simplicity is clearly derived from the need to fit the typology onto the site, and the moments of potential awkwardness implicit in this approach are delicately and hilariously handled. For example, trees shoot up through the roof and rope nets are slung out to protect children from falling through the gaps when shinning up the branches. The timber roof slopes gently towards the centre, encouraging movement and making everyone visible from the everywhere. The result is the sort of benign Panopticon, where the inmates clamber gleefully all over the building as if it were a great toy. Running 55 laps a day, spying on other children in classes below, haring about safely and bouncing off soft wood Paulowina storage boxes like grinning dervishes. I’ve never seen so many photographs of so many happy people in one place. The kids seem to be in love with their bodies in the building, and it appears like a great wide grin, an indulgent and resilient background figure.

Sarah Menin and Flora Samuel have written recently about the psychology of modern spaces in ‘Aalto and Corb: Nature and Space’, and Menin has also written about ‘The Architecture of Invitation’ in which she traces the influence of both Aalto and the psychological writing of Donald Winnicott upon Sandy Wilson. Winnicot’s writings relate spatial situations to psychic ones, and his basic insight is that we need ‘holding environments’ that enable us to withdraw from or to step out into the world. Menin and Samuel are intrigued by the ways in which bodily images translate into spatial images. I don’t mean the hokey formalist clichés that you hear bandied about so often (‘womb-like forms’, ‘feminine curves’, ‘organic shapes’. Etc.). Menin and Samuel tease out instead the inspiration for our spatial and linguistic references in our relationships with people and place; the primary encounters with the world that enable us to develop a sense of selfhood and worldliness. They thus avoid the black hole of most contemporary criticism that starts and ends with biography. It is obvious that certain morphologies imitate the primary encounter of being held, and courtyard typologies can mutate from squares to ovals without losing the essential qualities that distinguish these spaces in topological terms territories defined by wall buildings. The Tezukas’ Kindergarten is a safe realm that exposes children to miniature adventures everyday, offering an invitation to play and to learn from playing. A certain kind of uncommon sense is set in motion in this project, intimating and introducing all of the roles we learn to play in life, from adventurer to spy to gymnast and actor, and in leaving things incomplete, they even encourage the architect in all of us to come out to play.