It is an annex building of the Fuji Kindergarten. The functions are English language classrooms and the waiting station for the school bus. 50 percent of the building is exposed to an external environment. The building’s enclosure is blurred and the footprint of the building does not represent the boundary between the internal and the external.
A twisted zelkova tree dictates the existence of the place. The crown and the trunk of the tree has been acting as a shelter for children for a long time. The architecture is nothing more than a modest addition to the very much mature space. The zelkova tree was once blown down by a typhoon and not expected to survive. Yet the tree survived, grew up tall, and became too wide even for two adults to hug around the trunk after nearly 50 years. The inclination of the twisted trunk is just right for children to enjoy climbing up. The bark has been polished up smoothly by the small hands of children throughout the years of its history. There used to be a tree house with ducks living under the floor. The shadow of the tree used be an outdoor classroom.
In the first week of May, the building gets covered by the greenery. The massive greenery exceeding 5 times of the structure overwhelms and erodes the building. The columns and floor-plates are dissolved into shaking shadow of the branches and dispersed into the air. The irregular oval plan is the footprint of the tree crown. The branches were preserved as they penetrate the building. Unless crawling under the branches, the grown ups are not able to reach the roof level.
While the main building of the Fuji Kindergarten is an oval without a center, the annex is centripetal. The image has derived from the story of Buddha giving lecture under the linden tree, yet it did not happen exactly as we planned. Children and teacher are taking very narrow corner and space between floor plates. The building has seven floor plates within 5 meter building height. It means that the space between floor plates are between 600mm to 1500mm, which is not quite enough height for the grown ups. The idea started from the comment of the kindergarten headmaster. He said, "We want a classroom without furniture." We brought our daughter and son, and both looked very happy putting their palms under the ceiling. As the headmaster said, the ceiling is equivalent to the sky for the children. A ceiling normally exists in the height where no children can touch yet the grown ups can. When the sky is lowered as they can touch, the space is transformed into their regime where they understand from a world of giant. I would like you to visit the building in a nice weather, and you will find smiling children packed into less than 600 height space between the floors.
Safety is a big issue in this annex. Some of the ceiling height is lower than children’s height, and there is no guard where the different levels meet. We did a experiment with our daughter and son, before the building was completed. They started making bumps and bruises as I suspected. We did not worry about bumps and bruises, but it became a problem as they started climbing over the handrail using branches to balance. Now there are ropes as a safety net. We consider the ropes positively as a part of the architecture. If we had started our design from the safe point of view, the configuration would never have been created. Even 50 centimeter height difference can be dangerous for the children. The headmaster of the kindergarten is very unique, considering miner injury is necessary for the education of the infants. He think that many adults get serious injuries because they had never experienced injury in their childhood.
The structure is very thin. It is necessary because some of the ceiling heights are less than 1 meter. The existence of the structure needed to be smaller than the space between the floor. The floor is 9 mm steel plates with ribs and most of the columns are less than 30mm x 30mm. This is almost the scale of furniture. In this scale, each elements of the structure become smaller than the branches of the tree. The ribs under the floor starts to look like the veins of leaves, yet it is not the imitation of the pattern. This is the result of rational structural analysis on the geometrical requirement.
The image of the lighting is fire flies, which represent the summer in the Japanese culture, as if the clouds of the small lights are just landing on the tree.
The name of the building "Ring Around a Tree" is named after the nursery rhythm "Ring around the Rosy.” The godfather is Sir Peter Cook, who visited the site last December. He sang the song for the project. "Ring around the rosy , A pocketful of posies " Ashes, Ashes " We all fall down!"