By Eleana Kolovou
“Schools should be designed by the finest architects. They’re the place where aesthetics are shaped, they are the cradle of the younger generation’s culture and education. Who wouldn’t aim for the best?”. Konstantinos Labrinopoulos, founder of kinetic lab of architecture (KLAB), has just delivered a public nursery in the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada and talks to greekguru.net.
It looks nothing like a typical nursery: white, high quality prefabricated units form the children’s first “little village”- with sunny, spacious interiors and large gardens. With offices in London and Athens, the acclaimed Greek architect has many futuristic designs in his portfolio as KLAB's projects range from downtown apartment buildings to suburban pharmacies. After fighting with Greece's difficult bureaucracy and designing the nursery school, Labrinopoulos became the protagonist of a public building project, something rarely seen for a Greek architect.
How did you imagine the everyday life of toddlers inside the nursery?
We wanted them to feel at home, but at the same time sense that their school has something different. The indoors design allows for free movement, with the element of surprise always present. Natural light illuminates all spaces and the garden is visible at all times.
What was your inspiration for the Glyfada public nursery?
Our goal was for it to resemble the primary image of a home, which, by repetition, forms a small village with its very own central plaza. Of course the land, neighboring buildings, the orientation and the materials we used influenced the final design.
"The most important change we made happen, was that we brought an architectural design back to public schools."
Which features make it different?
This is a prefabricated, top quality building with unconventional characteristics. We managed to abolish the negative connotation that prefabricated materials carry in Greece, and deliver the project fast. For example, the outer walls are only 10 cm wide, which creates more room for the children inside. Outer insulation covers the whole of the building, walls and roof, with the help of pergolas-perhaps for the first time in Greece- and this way, the nursery becomes bioclimatic. But the most important change we made happen, was that we brought an architectural design back to public schools. Although architecture should be a key element in public buildings, it is absent, more often than not.
Why do architects in Greece have nothing to do with designing school buildings?
Unfortunately, architects in Greece have nothing to do with any type of public building. The government representative that supervises the public contract often lacks interest and is underqualified. Architects are pushed aside and cannot have control over their projects. In our opinion, schools should be designed by the finest architects. They’re the place where aesthetics are being shaped, they are the cradle of the younger generation’s culture and education. Who wouldn’t aim for the best?
In this particular case, how was the projected awarded?
Through a construction tender. Bureaucracy obstacles are many and construction companies rate lowly the work done by architects. This means that one has to be determined in order to complete such a project. Luckily, the city council was on our side.
Has there been increased interest from parents to enroll their children in the nursery?
This has been the case, yes. Parents even from remote areas of the city wanted to enroll their children in the nursery. Many parents left private schools in order to come to this one. We are not surprised. People and society ask for beautiful, “tidy", “clean” buildings. They can tell the difference. And this difference is likely to translate into a bigger commitment for the children, by teachers and parents.
Can a school building shape the aesthetics of children and adults?
I believe it can, mostly for children. It’s obvious that the place where a child spends half its day shapes the way it perceives aesthetics as an adult. The school shell creates the right environment for children to grow through play, along with the help of their educators. It encourages everyone to give their best.
Can you remember the school buildings you went to?
I’ve been very lucky throughout my school years. I went to a labyrinth-like primary school in the woods, to a symmetrical high school, complete with libraries, labs, theatre and stadium. I also went to the Athens Polytechnic University, with its imposing, large classrooms, and an atrium ideal for a chat and relaxation right in the city centre.
Are schools, or public buildings in general, high in your priorities?
It’s an area of great interest to us. We have lots of ideas, especially for buildings with mixed uses, for example the combination of facilities for senior citizens with a school nursery. This has been proven to be beneficial for children and the elderly alike.