Nestled on a serene, forested hillside near Mount Fuji, the Children’s Forest, designed by Takashige Yamashita Office, goes beyond being a nursery school. It is a light-filled haven immersed in the grace of the surrounding natural landscape.
The design takes cues from the canopy of the lush Hinoki trees that embrace the site, with their branches filtering light, casting enchanted bubbles of light on the forest floor. The design unfolds as a series of individual cubical units resting on varying ground levels, with ample daylight poured from different openings. The undulating terrain, with slopes and a hill rising to 3-4 meters on the site's western side, became an integral element that the architects preserved.
Each unit serves a specific age group or a program, such as temporary care or teacher lounges. Strategically positioned at different levels and angles, the design ensures that every space offers a unique view of the natural surroundings.
The school allows children to connect with various aspects of nature by integrating it into the design – like opening into a wide grass field for running and playing, sheltering an 8m tall symbolic tree, incorporating a mound for climbing and even a small tunnel for exploring. The façade adorned in the timeless grace of acrylic plaster and Sugi wood creates a humble presence that blends with the natural surroundings.
Inside, the rooms are interconnected via ramps and courtyard spaces, forming an interior landscape. Wooden interiors evoke a sense of warmth and security. The ceiling, a canvas of woodwool cement board, adds texture and acoustic balance to the spaces within. The overall material palette resonates with the design ethos, connecting architecture to nature.
Despite its significant roof coverage, the architecture maintains an ardent connection to the environment. Gaps between the roof and building volumes, as well as openings on the eaves, allow natural light and greenery to flood the interior. It creates a visual and physical link between the indoor and outdoor spaces.
At the heart of the structure lies a multipurpose hall with a capacity of up to 150 people. This central hub encourages social interaction and facilitates daily playtime and events. A wooden deck in the open courtyard provides a safe playground for younger kids, while the other side of the hall connects to a higher backyard surrounded by the forest.
In conclusion, the design seamlessly integrates with its natural context, creating a warm and healthy environment for kids to grow, learn and flourish in the heart of nature.