Students Grow Their Own Food at This Experimental Kindergarten

In Vietnam’s Dong Nai province, an experimental kindergarten designed by Vo Trong Nghia Architects inculcates young pupils in the ways of food cultivation.

The Farming Kindergarten posits a new “sustainable education” model that seeks to impart the virtues of nature and self-reliance to young students. In addition to their primary coursework, children are taught to grow their own food in the vegetable gardens planted on the continuous green roof.

All images courtesy Gremsy

Page through any of the dozens of historiographies of modern architecture and it’s clear that the movement’s most enthusiastic advocates were schoolchildren. In such accounts, the imagery runs the usual radiantly optimistic course, with slack-limbed tykes ambling past or gamboling over stark geometrical constructions.

So it is much the same with the Farming Kindergarten in Dong Nai Province in Vietnam. But here, architect Vo Trong Nghia swaps out the unloving concrete of yesteryear for greener pastures. “This is a place where children can learn the importance of agriculture and their relationship with nature,” says Takashi Niwa, a partner at Vo Trong Nghia Architects. Set on a triangular site adjacent to a shoe factory, the building loops in and over itself with Möbius-like conviction, stopping just short of completing its circuit, as if the ouroboros in the end lost its appetite. Niwa speaks of an “eco-friendly experience” when describing the coiled external social and learning spaces, which embody the apparent “fluidity” of the school’s alternative education model.

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A continuous lawn on top tapers down at two points to give access to the elevated yard, in which the kindergarten’s 500 students—children of the factory workers next door—can graze and play. More purposefully, the vegetable gardens on the roof present the opportunity for a kind of active learning; caretakers hunch over beds of herbs and legumes instructing the youngsters in food cultivation. Niwa points to the chronic food crises that have plagued Vietnam and Southeast Asia as an underlying factor in the school’s hybrid curriculum and environment. The edibles harvested by the children are used for school-day lunches, with the rest distributed to their families. The benefit is twofold—the young learners are inculcated in the joys of wholesome food free of chemicals and the stigma of alienated labor, while being proud of contributing to their households.

The building is a case study for an urbanizing and industrializing country where the supply of green spaces in cities such as Biên Hòa, the local provincial capital, is under threat. The school’s tree-filled courtyards and sloped gardens are a pointed response, and yet the architectural impetus to implement local materials and low-tech solutions—for example, complete cross-ventilation in the classrooms—does not seek to disparage local industry. On the contrary, the building’s metabolism is intimately intertwined with that of the adjacent shoe plant. The lush lawns are irrigated using captured rainwater and recycled wastewater from the factory, which has led to an incredible reduction in water consumption—upwards of 80 percent by the architect’s measure and amounting to $5,400 saved per year.

It’s for these reasons that Niwa and his colleagues attach such great significance to what, on the surface, may seem just a particularly pretty nursery school. “Experiences in early childhood are a deciding factor for human development. The redesigning of building typologies such as a kindergarten can have a great impact on society.”

The classrooms are designed to be cooled entirely through cross-ventilation, all the more impressive given Vietnam’s tropical climate.

Children frolic in the school’s generous green spaces, including the green roof and one of three courtyards (above and below).

Young ones look over one of the school’s roof-top vegetable and herb gardens. The students’ yield is used for school lunches, with the remainder distributed among the pupils’ families—perhaps not as meager a contribution as it sounds, with the average Vietnamese worker earning just $180 a month.

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