Lizard's Tale

In spite of all the restrictions that were raining on them from all sides, Vera Butko and Anton Nadtochy were able to build a kindergarten that looks like a toy fairy tale palace. How were they able to do that? Let us find out!

Written by:
Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov

14 February 2013

The project of a kindergarten that we are going to cover in this article won the first prize in the contest for "the best design project of a pre-school educational institution of variative shapes", organized by the Research Institute for the Development of Professional Education and with the support of Moscow department of education. The winner was to be awarded, among other things, with an opportunity to make a presentation at a conference dedicated to innovative design of kindergartens. The conference took place on the 15th of February at the Information and Analysis Center of the City Education Department.


The architects got the commission of designing the kindergarten that is situated amidst residential buildings on the 2nd Parkovaya Street in the district of Izmailovo practically at the construction pit stage. Its construction had started by the project of a different architectural office - this project even got all the necessary official approvals but at the same time it was not finished yet: it missed the facades and even the layout of the building was on the "raw" side, though, because officially approved, mandatory to execution.


Strictly speaking, what was required of "Atrium" was just to "finish" the facades and the interiors - but the architects thought it below them to approach the task formally and worked their way through everything, including the technical plan. What was ultimately left of the original project was the set of dimensions, even though the architects had to coordinate the numerous changes not with the investor ("Donstroy") but with a "less personified commissioner", this last being the representatives of the district authorities - due to the fact that the kindergarten has the municipal status and number. In a word, in spite of the time constraints, the minimum budget (the construction period coincided exactly with the lowest point of the economic crisis) and the difficulties connected with getting all the necessary approvals, the architects were ultimately able to make a difference - now the building looked undoubtedly "Atrium" style.


Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street

Working with the volume that was generally defined by the existing plan, the architects used to the best effect its outstanding blocks, the alternating of which prompted the central theme of the project - the theme of playing games. Each fragment of the building can be viewed as part of an exciting game of blocks, the game elements being there in the structure of the building as well as in the details. This impression is enhanced at the expense of the fact that the cubical blocks are placed with a shift to one another, as if put there by a child's unsteady hand.

Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street

At the same time the structure of the building is easily discernible - from a white rectangle, multicolored volumes protrude: the turquoise and red ones with bull's eye windows are staircases, the chartreuse and the orange ones, pierced with zigzagged verticals of "mystery forest" are the volumes of the auditorium, the gym, and the large swimming pool on the first floor. Behind the white walls, there are children's bedrooms and game rooms but these do not fall short of their neighbors - here and there, like curious children, square red frames pop out of them. Thus the architects implement one of their favorite principles: they designate the functions of the premises on the facade, building the house in accordance with the fundamentals of classic modernism - from inside to outside. And, as a side effect of such decorative functionalism, they are getting a multicolored and height-varying "fairy tale country" with its towers of staircases, and its magic forest that is drawn on the facades and that grows over the roof with the teeth of the parapet that look like the pinions of the Kremlin wall on a child's watercolor drawing. The play of the volumes, the colors, and the heights... Everything is reasoned and everything is cheerful-looking.


Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street

The main image centerpiece of the project was to be formed of the mystery "crayoned forest". Initially it was also planned to make these zigzags three-dimensional, casting a complex form of fiber concrete - it was at that time that "Donstroy" launched a production line of its own for molding fiber concrete panels. "The original idea was to make all the surfaces not only multicolored but of different textures as well, make them from different materials. The commissioner, however, opted out of using the fiber concrete and it all ultimately came down to the good old stucco. It was only the configuration of the windows and the colors that survived" - Vera Butko shares.


Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street. Design offer.

Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street

Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street. Interior design.

The interiors became the biggest disappointment of the project. The "Atrium" architects worked them down to the last nail, so as every detail would be in its place. However, the never did get access to the author supervision, different people were responsible for the procurement of the materials and furniture, and as a result nothing went to plan. In the project the interiors are drawn as the direct continuation of the facades. They have in them the same round windows and tree-like zigzags on the walls of the auditorium. The original idea was "what you see is what you get" - if you have a "forest" on the outside, you will have a "forest" inside, only better and more colorful. Either the facades were "growing" into the interior or the color was "growing" from the inside out, spilling over onto the walls.


Kindergarten at the 2nd Parkovaya Street: swimming pool

Kozhukhovo Orphanage

Color per se plays a very special part in this project. The bright and cheerful palette unmistakably defines the function of the building. "We fought to protect our color solution for quite a while, - the architects share - we kept getting reproaches and warnings that ostensibly because of the brightness of color the children will grow psychically unbalanced. Funny that we kept getting these accusations from the construction workers themselves, and not from teachers or children psychologists". Shortly after the completion of the construction (in October last year) there were reports that Moscow's mayor Sergey Sobyanin praised the building during one of his inspection visits over the North-West Administrative District: "a great project... positive both from the construction and architectural standpoint" - said the mayor and even recommended its "repeated usage".


The bureau's portfolio includes several school buildings, including the orphanage in Kozhukhovo area, a sunny-yellow building of a sophisticated "whirling" shape. After that, just as the Kuzhukhovo orphanage, also at Donstroy's commission, the architects designed an educational complex in the district of Schukino, consisting of a junior school and two kindergartens.


Kindergartens at Schukino district. Elevation facing yard

One can notice the similarity between the Kozhukhovo orphanage and the Schukino educational complex: for example, in the first case the slanting "wisps" of silver-colored pillars supported the perforated "pancake" of the main awning that united, like a joint, the entire building, while in the second case this motif is transferred onto the "mushroom" awnings of the children's playgrounds.

Kindergartens at Schukino district. Yard

Out of the rectangular body of the buildings and into the yard, there grow four rounded "fingers" of the group blocks with "webbings" of deep recessed balconies between them. The color is active, the drawing is asymmetric and it sometimes looks like an arrested game of tetris or maybe like a multitude of chaotic large pixels on the television screen.


Kindergartens at Schukino district. Interiors

Kindergartens at Schukino district. Interiors

Lower level of the yard

In a word, the theme of schools and kindergartens has become one of the favorites with Vera Butko and Anton Nadtochy. So it is not surprising that in the contest for designing the residential blocks in Skolkovo's Technopark (District D2) they got a block with a kindergarten in it - in that particular case it was designed by the European standards and under a lot of space constraints, and was thus called "children's club", but the colorful beams from this building that was literally inserted inside a hill lightened up the entire block with its playful flares of rainbow colors, breaking through the multicolored glass of the "light funnel" in the center.


Overview of the block

One should mention here that multicolored schools and kindergartens have become quite common of late - now even Moscow municipal architectural bureaus have adopted the typical solution of a multicolored kindergarten building.


So what makes the projects by Vera Butko and Anton Nadtochy so different? I would say that it is some plastic and even theme "abundance" that is there about them. Their color is inseparable from their shape, it grows into it, and then both shape and color grow into the interior. Or, conversely, it grows from the interior onto the facades. The building strives to become a living being, not just another set of "lively" colors that are so numerous around but a house that pays it for real, according to the serious rules of the game. One can always feel it when the grown-ups really had no time to really put their mind to it: they have construction rules and laws to obey, meetings to attend, and phone calls to answer - but the children just want to play games! And the grown-ups make believe that they are playing a game, talking at the same time to their boss or their client on the phone, thinking that they could get away with some sort of palliative.


Vera Butko and Anton Nadtochy play it for real and they don't make believe. And this is precisely why they come up with all of their crazy ideas - and this is really important. Because if you have but one technique or idea, losing it in the construction process is lethal. But if you have many ideas - no, your losses do not become less painful - but here is what ends up happening: the building stays true to itself and keeps its face (and faith!) no matter what. Because it has something that it can give up - like a lizard loses its tail - keeping in mind that perhaps next time you will be able to implement more. Maybe, a lot more.


14 February 2013

Written by:

Alla Pavlikova
Translated by:
Anton Mizonov
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