Qkids, a hugely successful online education platform, known for its high quality online English courses to so far to more than 800,000 students, has over the past years spent lots of resources and efforts in developing a narrative game-based online curriculum to spur and stimulate the kids' curiosity in learning, consequently helping them to grow into small global citizens.
Its current venture is the expansion from online into off-line teaching, and the establishment of Qkids English Centers, aimed at 4-12 years old children who live in Chinese first-tier cities. These study centers are to reflect - just like the online platform - the Qkids educational philosophy of providing a long-lasting, immersive and fun learning experience. The first one to be opened is located in Xiamen, China.
Crossboundaries developed and tailored the first English Center to an existing space, to fulfill a multitude of requirements and to match closely the Qkids brand image and vision. The project site is located in Xiamen's Siming District, next to Xianyue Road, with a surrounding area that is rich in cultural and educational resources, also guaranteeing a good passenger flow. The space is long and narrow, on the street level of an architecture complex, with a large glass front window and main entrance facing a library building, and a secondary entrance on its narrow end, around the corner.
Expanding from successful online to offline teaching, the client considered it very important to provide a comparable stimulating environment for its customers with the aim of delivering anything but just a traditional classroom experience.
Diverse functions had to be accommodated - for different audiences, at various times of the week - Qkids students attending classes mainly on weekends, siblings, their parents and caretakers, prospect students and passersby exploring the bookstore or getting information about the Qkids brand, its educational offers or just attending an event in the Qkids Center.
The total demand of functions required exceeded the actual store space. Flexibility was yet again one of the key principles applied in Crossboundaries’ space design concept, flexibility in time and space - so that the center can cater for various functions, whilst it becomes an enticing, flexible and fun educational space and expresses the overall Qkids brand philosophy.
"We had the challenge to create a unique space that expands Qkids' successful online teaching experience to a real-life scenario, by naturally integrating different age groups and parents’ demands", says Hao Dong, Founding Partner of Crossboundaries, "and at the same time, to provide a very flexible concept, a 'design master' that can be adapted to potential future Qkids English Center locations.”
Framing the Parameters. The Blue Spine as the main feature.
As a first step, Crossboundaries started to re-organize all necessary functions for the center based on the required degree of privacy and usage time. Integrated functions such as resting, play and display, were grouped as public areas (with less need of privacy) and re-arranged along the window front of the original shop. These public areas were given an improved visibility to engage and invite, representing the values and open mindedness of the Qkids Brand. Private areas (less visible from the outside, in the back of the space) were assigned to teaching spaces, office and supporting areas.
The main feature was developed, the blue spine, - a long sculptural body - running through the core of the narrow space, the blue interface holding everything together and allowing at the same time for connections and modular inserts.
The front is composed as a large cubic wall grid, which is built as a steel structure, with public function areas inserted, in form of vertical and horizontally stacked wooden modules, containing the more open reception area and clearer defined break out modules that can be shared by parents and students alike.
The upper modules became an exploration world designed solely for the little ones, within the cubic grid, in which children can climb up and engage in playful activities during breaks or whilst waiting together with parents for their siblings to finish class. Within the steel structure, there are partially visible, partially hidden cavities, that kids can crawl up and into, or from where they can catch a quick sight of what's going on in one of the classrooms.
The blue spine, with its cubic matrix and modular volumes towards the front, also attracts potential new Qkids members and students, getting them intrigued in what is happening behind, in the classrooms. The blue element becomes the most prevailing, absorbing feature, to be playfully discovered by children, as a climbing passage with hidden places they can take into possession and which attracts strongly from the outside.
The overall space is arranged into areas of different levels of privacy, the blue spine facilitates a smooth transition from one layer to another - from a very public, very visible front to the semi-public corridor in the center and the private, non-public classrooms in the back.
"Presenting an accessible, open environment as well as sparking curiosity is part of the overall QKids Brand experience, we have continued this narrative from online to offline, and we layered the functional layout of the space accordingly, from very visible and public in the front to attract interest in what the center has to offer in more private areas in the back", explains Binke Lenhardt, Founding Partner of Crossboundaries.
The blue interface also makes room for modular furniture elements that can be placed and modified flexibly and stored away within, at any time according to the actual scenario and the number of users.
A smart and inspiring Masterplan for future Qkids Centers
The flexible usage of space within given limitations, facilitated by modular and movable elements, has become a central theme and a strength in several Crossboundaries' school design projects. It was yet again tailored to the requirements of the Qkids English Center, that is used differently at various times of the week, that needs space for activities with different privacy requirements and that becomes a manifestation for both, the Qkids Brand's offline and online teaching experiences.
The overall structure of the interior is made more intriguing, inspiring and children friendly through the limited use of colors and different material textures applied throughout the designs. Blue is an integral part of the Qkids Brand's visual language and became therefore the leading color, visible on the core feature, the blue spine, supported by a simple, geometric formal language and playfully integrated shapes of different sizes.