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Secret to Nurturing Young Minds

Activity huts and surrealistic art are just some of the unique elements that go into this children’s performing art and education center in Beijing.

Secret to Nurturing Young Minds

Set up for children aged 3 to 12, Art Plus in Beijing contains more than just functional ballet, music and piano rooms. There’s also a theatre for stage performances and a large multipurpose room. In addition, the space contains random huts of different shapes and sizes that kids can freely explore between lessons to enjoy a variety of different activities.

“We had the idea to create an Art Village,” explains Clarence Chia, co-founder of design firm AND Lab. He adds, “We wanted to create a space that would unleash a child’s imagination.”

AND Lab has designed the antithesis of the typical tuition centre set up – instead of row upon row of rooms cramped tightly together, the designers have created a space for exploration and fun. “We visited a lot of similar children educational centres to understand the procedures and parents’ behaviours,” says Chia.

Noise was a big consideration, and much thought went into activating the best solutions for sound insulation. “We realised that the hut typology was the best way to [stop] the sound from transmitting though vibration as the huts [stand as] independent [entities]. For classrooms that are adjoin, the shared walls are filled with insulation material. As for the theatre, which has higher acoustic requirements, the walls are clad with acoustic foam panels. The glass for all classrooms are also double layered,” shares Chia.

Given the numerous cases of child abductions from childcare centres in China, double doors were built at the entrance for enhanced security. Children safety concerns were also addressed with the choice of materials: for example, laminate glass was chosen in favour of tempered glass.

Hygiene and ease of sanitation is another important concern in such environments. Instead of the commonly used PVC flooring, which is easy to sanitise and reduces the impact of a fall, AND Lab chose to use Forbo’s marmoleum, which is plant-based and biodegrable, and offers similar upkeep and protection.

Parents in China – like parents anywhere in the world – love to watch their children in action, often peering in from the outside through classroom windows. With this project, the design team decided to go with one-way mirrored windows so parents can observe the goings on in class without creating a disturbance.

To further engage children through art and expand their imagination, AND Lab also collaborated with surrealist illustrator Alice Lin on a series of murals, which were featured on the outer walls of the huts.

“We did not want to have stereotypical cartoons that fulfilled general expectations. We wanted something that offered more space for imagination, [something] not bounded by an adult’s logic,” says Chia. It’s clear the AND Lab has strived to achieve that in every way.

Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud

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