Learning Curve: Farming Kindergarten in Vietnam by Vo Trong Nghia Architects

Kindergartens today are above and beyond what I remember as a child. They were usually smaller, and part of a larger primary school. But factoring, population growth and what not, I can begin to understand why pre-schools today can reach capacities of 400 – 500.

Aside from the capacity increase, they’re aesthetic and building programme are becoming quite innovative in a bid to depart from the traditional theory based school setting, into a more experiential one. One of such wondrous structures, is the ‘Farming Kindergarten’ by Vo Trong Nghia Architects, in Dongnai, Vietnam.
The name stems from the prominent green roof that covers the entire structure and is conveniently accessible. The large pre-school is designed to cater to 500 local children and is truly an exemplary model of contemporary sustainability within a tropical climate like Vietnam’s. The essence of the design approach was to enable its young students understand the importance of sustainable education and design. Historically an agricultural country, Vietnam is now moving towards a manufacturing based economy that is beginning to take its toll on the environment. Everything from droughts to air pollution and congestion all thanks to rapid urbanisation are having harmful effects on the environment and robbing Vietnamese children of natural greenlands. Thus, a project like this farming kindergarten is sorely needed to counter these growing challenges. Its prominent green roof will provide food and agriculture experience to its children and also provide for them a large and lush playground.
So how does it work? For starters, the form of the building is a single stroke, triple ring spiral, similar to a celtic loop, that creates three courtyards enclosed within the weave of the structure, perfect for safe and shaded playgrounds. This loop structure is the form from which the green roof is created. Access to the green roof is at the start of the spiral, where the roof begins to rise from the courtyard. This spiral looping structure also creates different levels thanks to the varying gradients that in turn offer a number of out door learning environments, where children can play and experience the great outdoors reconnecting to the surrounding nature.

site location
floor plans
section showing green features
Rendering of entrance courts
Rendering of one of the 3 enclosed courtyards
Rendering of entire school structure showing green roof and surrounding vegetation
The rooms and functional spaces under the green roof are well lit and ventilated with operable windows on both sides of the relatively narrow strip forming the spiral. To shade these windows, deep eaves and a green facade of vertical concrete louvers run along the outer side of the spiral which in itself also adds aesthetic value to the whole structure. These simple, almost passable features, go a long way in keeping the building sustainable. It forms one of the core reasons why the building does not need air conditioning in the classrooms, despite Vietnam’s harsh Tropical climate. Aside from the obvious insulation the green roof provides, another great, green feature is the recycling of wastewater that helps to irrigate the greenery in and around the school as well as flush toilets. Solar Water heating also offers amenity within the building. The combined effort of each of these features and the general approach to the design of the building reduces its running cost greatly. The school saves 25% of energy costs as well as 40% of fresh water, something that remains unattainable by traditionally built facilities.
This is good news for a structure that is intended for low income individuals. Surprised? Yes, the school  sits beside a shoe factory and is intended predominantly for children of low income factory workers as well as other low income earners within the region.
Working with a relatively small budget, low tech construction methods and locally sourced materials, such as bricks and tiles, made this school possible. Its simple, but rigid frame and the aforementioned materials put its construction cost around $500 (N 90,000) per square meter, which, even from the Vietnamese market is considered cheap.
Minimising environmental impact, promoting the local economy and industry, Creating over 200 sqm of green roof and garden space with five different vegetables planted, as well as the numerous, conspicuous, sustainable features of the building, the farming Kindergarten offers a truly unique educational and learning experience to its students as well as a great insight and case study for designers and architects who understand the importance of the environment.

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