With the expansion of the Technology Park on the outskirts of Valencia came an increasingly pointed need for accessible day care facilities for employees’ children. Rather than simply conceiving of a generic childcare centre, however, Spanish firm Foursquare Arquitectos was commissioned to create a construction coalescent with an ethos of educational innovation and inspiration.
Project leader, Ana Garcia Sala of Foursquare Arquitectos, envisioned a development in which the buildings formed an emotional component of the pedagogical ideal. Inspired by children’s play, Ana designed a family of brightly-hued circular structures, externally clad in bespoke ceramics.
“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,” explains Ana. “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.”
In order that the shape and colour combine for maximum impact, and due to the strong Iberian sun, Ana was in need of a versatile cladding material with high UV colour resistance. The optimum solution was thus thought to be Natucer which, in line with the very specific requirements of the curved facade project, produced 13.5 x 55cm rectangular glazed porcelain tiles, together with specially-curved pieces with a width of 13.5cm and a bowing radius of 85cm.
To achieve the required curvature, the glazed porcelain tiles were manufactured through a process of single-fire baking at 1195°C. Natucer was required to produce a series of tiles in five distinct spectral groups – pink, violet, blue, red and green. Furthermore, the company produced pieces in four varying shades of each hue – allowing the architect to create the striking patchwork effect of the facades.
The tiles were fastened to tracks through aluminium staples, set into slots within the tiles. The tracks were subsequently fixed to the facade via a sandwiched panel of aluminium and mineral wall, supported by a metallic substructure.
The five circular blocks are colour-coded in accordance with their function – the violet intended for infants from 0-12 months, the pink for toddlers of 1-2 years and the green for 2-3-year-olds. The red block comprises a communal area, with a gym, multi-purpose leisure room, a heated pool with saline water, and facilities for 3-6-year-old pre-schoolers. The blue building, finally, hosts the catering, staff rooms and administrative facilities, along with a learning and innovation centre governed by the teaching methods of Montessori and Reggio Emilia.
Sustainability played a central role in the project, both in terms of the design and specified materials. The building complex relies heavily on geothermal and solar energy sources, while the interior features a climate-controlled resin floor and ventilation with heat recovery.
The choice of ceramics was guided by the need for a natural, durable and easily-maintained cladding material with high thermal inertia. Natucer certainly seems to have delivered this in abundance – illustrating the power ceramic facades can bring to a structure.