The Art Of Play
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
You could be forgiven for thinking that this cutting-edge building in São Paulo, Brazil, was an art gallery or even a fashion boutique. In fact, though, the building's clientele has barely learned how to walk—some are still in diapers. Welcome to Primetime Child Development, a bilingual learning center that serves up to 75 tiny students, from infants to preschoolers. Designed by architect Marcio Kogan, the cenater—don't call it a nursery—sticks to principles developed by its director, child-development psychologist Christine Bruder. Its philosophy emphasizes a hands-on, sensory, play-driven approach, with the physical classroom environment as a learning tool. For babies, the curriculum comprises ritualized bathing, feeding, and diapering. Older children run through outdoor fountains, tend a playhouse with a little vegetable garden, look after pet rabbits, help cook meals, and put on plays.
Bruder asked Kogan for a building that avoided the stereotypically childlike in favor of clear organization and modern lines. "Those demands were in total harmony with our way of thinking about the project. Every specific detail was exhaustively discussed from the beginning of the design phase to the completion of construction," says Kogan, who worked with architect Lair Reis on the job. Indeed, Primetime's exterior reflects—and in some cases literally reveals—the 9,400-square-foot building's organization: bright yellow boxes projecting from a larger concrete one. Its three levels are connected by long ramps that wrap a yellow core. "Yellow was the first color we selected," Kogan says. "It stimulates social interaction." (Another of Primetime's pedagogical tenets.) The yellow is immediately visible through the front facade's curtain wall, translucent polycarbonate on the ground level and transparent glass above.
A pair of yellow boxes popping out from the third level contain a small playroom for younger kids and a meeting room for grown-ups. Equally yellow is the multipurpose auditorium on the ground level, while the nearby cafeteria-kitchen is orange. "The colors create a happy and stimulating environment without falling into something infantile," Kogan suggests. Most of the second level is given over to a larger playroom for the older children. Adjoining the play space is a suite of bathrooms, a bathing and changing area, and a nurse's station. The third level also houses Bruder's office, a nap-time room filled with cribs, an infants' playroom, a milk dispensary with a prep area for baby bottles, and a diaper-changing room.
A big part of Kogan's brief was to ensure the safety of Primetime's young occupants. Security meant discreetly integrating a guardhouse into the entry—a fact of life everywhere in São Paulo. Galvanized-steel screens, finished with silver automotive paint, are installed inside a wall of sliding windows in the large playroom, allowing them to be completely opened for fresh air without compromising safety. Keeping the children free of everyday cuts and scrapes was another matter. The playground and patio are paved in impact-absorbent rubber. Flooring in the hallways and playrooms is bacteria-resistant vinyl. Floors in the playrooms and auditorium are heated, too. "The idea was to eliminate any possible barrier, like the cold, to a child's exploration of space," Kogan explains.
His firm designed all the built-in furniture, including desks, bookcases, and cabinets. The diaper-changing counters are yellow cast acrylic that inhibits bacteria growth. Tiny tiles covering the walls of this room and the infant-bathing area have a satin finish, making them baby-friendly in size and touch. Other items came from around the world: high chairs, scooters, and kid-size furniture from Sweden; playground equipment from France; and bibs, aprons, and mats, all in eco-friendly cotton, from the U.S. Inspiring design's youngest constituents is indeed a global effort.