Exploration and Autonomy: Wild Children in the city
From 1980 to 2000, China adopted a teacher-centered kindergarten model with the main purpose of imparting knowledge, leaving children in a passive learning environment. Since 2001, this system’s adverse impact on child development has become clear to preschool educators. As a result, teachers have begun to consider kid-friendly environments and games. However, even these games were arranged with a top-down, teacher-centered structure. An education revolution has emerged that aims to release the freedom of children by prioritizing their needs, paying respect and trust to exploration, as well as giving children choice. One pioneering philosophy applying this principle is Anji Play, an internationally recognized early childhood curriculum developed and tested over the past 15 years. Through open-ended and self-determined play in a natural, open, variable, and diverse environment, Anji Play has proven to evoke children’s exploration spirit, encouraging autonomy and bringing children a sense of belonging. Yet, its development has been hindered in high-density cities because the system relies upon outdoor space.
Child development is impacted by the architectural environment. This thesis argues that it is possible to radically shift the perception of scale in urban sites such that they approximate the potential for exploration and autonomy in natural areas. The main architectural strategy is to increase the spatial perception of the activity area by blurring the boundary between indoor and outdoor with natural elements, such as vegetation, wind, and sunlight. The spatial experience is further enhanced by big loops circulating through each floor, with staggered stairs and small loops connecting each room with variable partitions. A sense of belonging can be created by an integrated open scheme that encourages users to keep contact with their surroundings and feel free to shape their environment. Ferns sway and the wind pulls a raucous group of wild children into a gallop from room to room, but they don’t know if they are outside or in.