The growth of the Technology Park on the outskirts of Valencia resulted in a pressing need for easily accessible day care facilities for employees’ children, so Spanish design firm Foursquare Arquitectos was commissioned to design a new Children’s Education and Innovation Centre. The scheme had greater ambitions, however, than simply filling in a gap in the childcare market. It was also intended to champion educational innovation and inspire its young occupants to explore the world around them.
Project leader Ana Garcia Sala envisioned a development in which the buildings formed an ‘emotional’ component of the pedagogical ideal. Inspired by observing children at play, Sala designed a ‘family’ of brightly hued circular structures, externally clad in bespoke ceramic tiles.
“The colour encourages a transmission of sensations from both inside and out, creating a space that stimulates curiosity and creativity among the young users of the building. The rounded shapes and lack of sharp edges, both in the exterior and the interior, not only enhance the children’s safety, but also invite exploration and encourage proximity and interaction,” explains Sala.
In order to make shape and colour work together for maximum impact, Sala needed a versatile cladding material with high UV resistance that would withstand the strong Iberian sun. The solution came in the form of bespoke porcelain tiles from Natucer. To meet the very specific needs of the curved façade project, Natucer produced 135 by 550mm rectangular glazed porcelain tiles, together with special curved pieces with a width of 135mm and a bowing radius of 850mm.
To achieve the required curvature, the glazed porcelain tiles were single-fired at 1,195oC, in carefully monitored cycles. Natucer was asked to produce a series of tiles in five distinct spectral groups: pink, violet, blue, red and green. Using high temperature glazes, Natucer produced pieces in four varying shades of each hue to allow the architect to create a tone-on-tone ‘patchwork’ effect for each façade.
The tiles were fastened to tracks via aluminium staples set into slots within the tiles. The tracks were then fixed to the façade via a sandwich panel of aluminium and mineral wool, supported by a metallic substructure.
Each of the five ‘colour coded’ circular blocks within the scheme has its own specific purpose. The violet building is equipped for infants from 0 to 12 months and also offers breastfeeding facilities. The pink building is for toddlers from 1 to 2 years, and the green structure is dedicated to 2 to 3 year olds.
The red block accommodates a communal area, a gym, a multi-purpose leisure room, a heated pool with saline water, plus facilities for 3 to 6 year old pre-schoolers.
The blue building hosts the catering, staff rooms and administration; plus a learning and innovation centre aligned with the Montessori teaching methods.
Sustainability was a key consideration in terms of both design and materials. This influenced the choice of ceramic tiles as a natural, durable and easy-maintenance cladding material; as did the proximity of production as the site is based only 60 km from Castellon, the heart of the Spanish tile industry. The building complex also relies on geothermal and solar energy sources, and ventilation with heat recovery.
Photography: Javier Fuente, Consuelo Chambo and Luis Millet.
This article first appeared in Tile & Stone Journal, April 2013