A kindergarten designed using QM’s Rebuild Better design guidelines, with four classrooms, new public space, improved landscape features, and a stormwater infiltration system.
🗓 Year: 2020–2021
📏 Floor area: 350 m²
💸 Project budget: €110,000
🔮 Funded by: Fondi Zhvillimit Shqiptare Earthquake Reconstruction Fund
🏗 Contractor (selected through tender): Murati Cons
✅ Status: Complete
In March 2020 QM was selected to design layout concepts for two kindergartens in Vorë municipality as part of a fast-tracked earthquake-reconstruction fund for public school buildings, administered jointly by the Albanian Development Fund and the planifikimi.gov.al. The concept for the village of Marqinet went on to tendering.
In Albania, children between the ages of three and five are eligible for public kindergarten, but attendance is not required. Marqinet has not had a school of any kind since 2008, and many parents we spoke with were uncomfortable sending their young kids on a bus to attend school in another town. The proximity of a new kindergarten will greatly improve enrollment.
Expanding the Uses of a Public Building
A rural school is often the only public building around. At Marqinet, a gymnasium/youth center was built a few years ago on the school site. The plot forms the functional center of the village, with a mosque, a small shop, and the youth center clustered together.
Shifting the building footprint five meters away from the existing youth-center building helps the new school fulfill current public functions (such as being used as a polling place) and allows for new ones to emerge (such as using it as a park, play area, town hall, or gathering space).
The two outdoor spaces at different heights create the possibility of two entrances and two distinct uses: one upstairs and one downstairs. The municipality has the option to change its functions relatively easily when, for example, the need arises for classrooms for older children.
Part of the building’s responsibility is to be totally accessible to rolling—to wheelchairs and strollers especially. This will reduce limitations to changing programs in the future.
A Playable Building
The first kindergartens emerged during a moment of revolutionary recognition of children’s play as a mode of learning, rather than a waste of time. In kindergarten most learning doesn’t happen from instruction but from children’s self-directed explorations and collaborative work.
The design of the kindergarten influences and shapes how these explorations take place, and should be sensitive to the developmental capacities of children at various ages. Understanding developmental milestones corresponding to emotional, linguistic, and cognitive capacities has implications for any kindergarten design that supports early childhood development.
In Marqinet, play equipment of any kind was not foreseen in the emergency budget; the building itself had to be playable.
The school’s windows allow play and are also part of the circulation concept. Placing a standard sliding window in a low position creates possibilities for entering and exiting the classroom. Windows are places to climb in and out of; they are ledges to sit on facing; they are shelves inside the classroom on which to set long lines of plants that students can care for; and they provide visibility, allowing teachers to monitor comings and goings.
The typical classroom plan is designed as a sequence of movements and possible activities. The busier, messier craft areas are separated from quieter, larger study areas.
The classroom layout creates spaces for varying degrees of privacy, plenty of storage of personal belongings, and a dedicated crafts space with a sink.
We wished to make small, intimate spaces that minimize distraction, where a child’s focus can be downward, on their hands. Articulating the classroom spaces instead of leaving them open gives more, not less, flexibility. The partial privacy of the entry and storage area creates the chance for a pause from the intensity inside the classroom.
The Building Provides Healthy Light, Air, and Acoustics
Daylighting and healthy acoustics were also driving values of the design.
In conversation, residents and teachers emphasized that school buildings frequently lose electricity during the day. School windows are usually small, and even in the middle of the day the classroom is too dark without electric light.
The principal at a nearby school told us that it’s not uncommon to have less than one square meter per child, so the rooms are not only crowded but also very noisy. Several studies have found that high levels of ambient noise has negative effects on students’ reading and numeracy skills as well as overall academic performance. The din of the classroom might have a seriously adverse effect on the students’ work and well-being. Their ability to focus is crucial, and acoustics play a large roll in that.
Healthy acoustics require absorptive material, but that simply can’t be found in the budget for the rural kindergarten. The other way to provide sound dampening is to baffle. The ramping in the scheme inexpensively changes the acoustic dynamics of the room.
Cooperation with Weather: Human Comfort and Practical Green Infrastructure
Marqinet’s outdoor spaces were not budgeted for, so we articulated them as extensions of the building’s functions of drainage and circulation. The roof’s gutter system brings water downward, but instead of piping it onto the street we channel it to various planted places on the site.
The drainage concept at Marqinet makes visible systems that are usually hidden. This creates chances to teach about concepts of weather and infrastructure, which are ultimately the building blocks to forming climate consciousness.
Other elements in the landscape also follow the Rebuild Better design guidelines, including providing seating near shade trees and planting mature trees immediately. QM donated a mature plane tree to the school in the fall of 2021.