Written by: Staff Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 .
“Ring Around a Tree” by the Japanese husband and wife team, Yui and Takaharu Tezuka, is a small addition to the unique Fuji kindergarten in Tokyo, Japan they designed back in 2007. As the title suggests, the structure wraps around a tree: a Japanese zelkova that has particular significance to the locals. Over 50 years old, the zelkova has long been a place for the local children to climb, as well as find shelter from sun and rain. The new structure built around the tree was designed with those activities in mind, but also adds an educational dimension to the space.
The kindergarten itself has a very interesting design and the philosophy behind its development has been extended to the “Ring around the Tree.” Tezuka architects were approached by the directors of Fuji kindergarten to redesign the existing school as something that resembled their “Roof House” completed in 2001. This particular house features a communal roof deck that includes a kitchen and shower. Today, Fuji kindergarten is a one-story oval-shaped building with a roof deck that covers the entire perimeter and provides space for play and class activities. One of the most unique elements of the school’s design is the absence of walls between the classrooms. Each group space is instead partitioned off from the others by stacks of paulownia woodblocks so that the classrooms are always connected by sight and sound. While it seems as though this design would make it impossible to keep the children focused, both Tezuka and the school directors had specific reasons for this open arrangement: “With no hidden rooms, children will automatically adopt socially acceptable behavior patterns. It’s also no problem to go to an adjacent classroom for a moment. According to the directors, spaces with a lot of noise are better for raising children who have the ability to concentrate.” Generally, we assume the opposite to be true: that confined and quiet spaces are the only suitable environment for true learning.
The “Ring Around a Tree” is likewise a totally open structure meant to facilitate a communal learning environment. Although the structure is only two-stories tall, it is subdivided into six floors of a one meter height. Of course the children using these spaces aren’t very tall, but these short passages are meant to encourage them to crawl and climb around. Using the body and all the senses is an important element of this particular school’s curriculum and the “Ring Around the Tree” requires these to be engaged as the children make their way up and down the structure. Similar to the school environment, the circular layout keeps children constantly in contact with each other and avoids any sort of hidden space or corner for children to disappear into.
English language classes are held in an open space in the “Ring Around a Tree,” but again, no typical classroom is to be found; there are no chairs or desks to restrict how the class will arrange itself. Instead, a two-tiered bench is built into the perimeter of the open space where the young students can gather around their teacher for lessons. At the center of all this activity stands the Zelkova tree, a monument to this combination of play and education.
Images: Tezuka Architects