Homework: An exercise in humanity

SPECS | Site Area: approx. 3,000 sq ft | Building Area: approx. 1,439 sq ft | Total Floor Area: approx. 3,225 sq ft

Ma Yansong, founder and principal partner of MAD Architects, is known for his innovative buildings, such as the swirling Harbin Opera House and the curved Ordos Museum in China, as well as the gravity-defying residential Absolute Towers in Canada. Yet this world renowned architect found one of his most challenging projects while designing a tiny, two-story structure in Japan.

“This was quite special for me,” he says of Clover House kindergarten. “A lot of our projects are on a much larger scale, but this is very intimate.”

The school owners, siblings Kentaro and Tamaki Nara, knew of MAD Architects’ work, and a principal partner was from the area. “He knew the owner, and they already ran a small school out of their existing house,” explains Yansong.

Demand for the programs is so high in Japan that the school needed to quickly expand, and the owners wanted their impressionable youngsters in an innovative building.

“We were searching for a new piece of land for a long time, but we just couldn’t find the right site,” Yansong recalls. Finally, the siblings turned inward. They would transform their old house into a new kindergarten.

“They’d lived there for generations,” the founder of MAD Architects shares. “It’s an important emotional element for this family.” The radical reuse of the structure raised many questions: Would the father, who lives next door, be too emotional and attached to the building? Was there a way to preserve the heritage? How could memories be saved? How could the community’s children be best served?

MAD’s design solution was to build a new outside structure to maximize space, while keeping the old structure’s internal frame the same, becoming the heart of the building.

Photography Courtesy of MAD Architects.

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