Organic architecture for an early learning centre – Centro Infanzia ZIP
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Organic architecture for an early learning centre – Centro Infanzia ZIP

Luisa Fontana

Organic architecture for an early learning centre – Centro Infanzia ZIP
By Francesco Pagliari -

This crèche and early learning centre is located in the immediate vicinity of the Padua industrial estate. It hasthe important task of caring for children aged from three months to six years, providing both a vital educational service and a solution to a problem shared by all workers with young children. Through an innovative approach to space, the design is intended to bring core childhood development concepts to life, while also reflecting the centre’s educational aims. Luisa Fontana’s design does this through a progressive view of the responsibility of architects to create liveable spaces that are bright, pleasant, comfortable and environmentally friendly, in this case to host children while their parents are at work. The design reflects the development stages of infant perceptions. This is architecture that offers a spatial continuity in which children’s all-important sensory experiences and stimulation can take place. Divided into successive ‘phases’ both inside and out, the building constantly surprises. The geometric shapes that make up the design are interwoven with curved surfaces to create a series of interrelated spaces, including classrooms purpose-designed for different age and need groups, from bottle-fed babes to infants with higher degrees of independence. These spaces flow from one to the next, with certain functions overlapping and interconnecting different parts of the centre, making it possible to also provide shared educational experiences. A key element of the plan is the connection between its buildings, gardens, and the two large parks located nearby as spaces for play, learning about outdoors, conducting teaching projects, and progressively experiencing nature at first hand. The project underscores this connection. Surrounded by its own grounds, the centre is a circular structure that offers additional indoor areas in the form of small cave-like spaces that extend out from its curved walls. To the south these caves are glazed, the frames forming polygonal shapes, a little like the cockpit of an old aeroplane. The windows create a bioclimatic greenhouse, harnessing the sunshine to store heat in winter. In summer, sections of the glazing can be opened to extract heat from the building. A pergola with metal posts and wires – reminiscent of a tree in appearance – supports deciduous plants and also contributes to filtering solar radiation during summer. Each cave forms a transition between the inside and outside. The primary environment for children in each age group, the caves are elliptical spaces defined and enclosed by curved partitions between the outside and inside. The exterior walls of the centre are white, decorated with colourful mosaics that reflect the sensory experiences of children through images that range from abstract to human figures and landscapes. The sizes of the ‘classrooms’, which are arranged in a radial pattern around a hub, gradually increase. This spiralling element, in which children can have psychomotor experiences, weaves around an open garden with play equipment and plants. The glazed walls that overlook the garden establish a constant visual relationship between it and the cocoon-like teaching areas. Soft colours characterize the walls of passageways inside the structure, while the outside of the classroom walls that face onto them are white, decorated with colourful mosaics as expressive recollections of the drawings of childhood of different ages, but on a larger scale. Inside the classrooms is a truncated cone structure with the dual function of providing a space for the children’s toilets while acting as a ventilation tower through cavities in its upper section, closed off by perforated sheet metal. Close attention to creating eco-friendly architecture has enriched the quality of the design of the early childhood centre. The building’s different functions are clearly organized, with the administrative and service areas placed at the northern end, thereby enhancing the liveability of the teaching areas placed to the south. As regards interior comfort levels and environmental considerations, the project features advanced technologies, such as geothermal heat pumps, solar power, and rainwater collection for irrigation and drainage. This is a building in which natural light and ventilation are used to enhance liveability. It’s organic architecture that comes to life with colourful and imaginative spaces – symbolic places created for following the growth and cognitive development of children.

Francesco Pagliari


Location: Padua
Client: Consorzio Z.I.P. Zona Industriale e Porto Fluviale di Padova, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo
Gross Floor Area: 1.000 m2 
Architects: Luisa Fontana, Fontanatelier
Works Management: Luisa Fontana, Fontanatelier
Management of Structures and Installations: Arup Italia
Contractors: Costruzioni Edili Parpajola, S.V.E.C. Società Veneta Edil Costruzioni, De Santis Impianti

Structures, Installations and Sustainability: Arup Italia
Acoustics: Studio di Acustica Tombolato e Cordeddu

Concrete: Beton Candeo
Concrete and Masonry Slabs: Rubini
Metal Structural Work: Scarabottolo
Spritz Beton and Geothermal Probes: Georicerche
Green Roof: Daku Italia
Bentonite Waterproofing: Harpo
Acoustic Ceiling: Saint Gobain Eurocoustic
Insulation: Foamglas
Ventilation Spaces: Geoplast
Interior Doors: Simeonato
Linoleum Flooring: Forbo Resilienti
Titanium Zinc Cladding: Zintek
Mosaics: Trend Group
Lighting Fixtures: Disano Illuminazione

PVC Door and Window Frames: Schüco International Italia 

Photo by:1/7 © Consorzio Z.I.P., 8/14 © Andrea Chillemi

Luisa Fontana 
Luisa Fontana, born in Zurich, graduated with top marks at the Venice IUAV.
In the Nineties she set up her practice at Schio, Venice, where she works to public and private commission, ranging from industrial and interior design to urban design and residential, school, hospital, commercial, cultural and religious building.
For the engineering development of her projects she turns to international engineering firms like Arup, with whom she has developed pilot schemes in the field of sustainability and energy saving.
Attentive to the subject of accessibility, she is a member of C.E.R.P.A. (European Centre for Research into and Promotion of Accessibility).
She has been an assistant professor and visiting professor at the Venice IUAV, as well as the Canadian University of Manitoba and the Montreal University École d'Architecture de Paysage.
Her works have been exhibited in Spain at the Barcelona 3rd European Biennal de Paisatge (2003); in China at the Nanjing Museum (2006); at Brazil’s 5th Architecture Biennale (Brasilia 2006); in Japan at the Sendai Mediathèque and the Fukuoka Acros (2007); in Italy at the Acquario Romano for her personal show “LuisaFONTANAtelier. Global Architecture” (2010).

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