The Architecture of a Daycare Centre in Tuusula Draws Inspiration from a Local Artist
Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre aims for sustainability while offering children interesting spatial experiences.
A children’s daycare centre is one of the building types we can call public. The Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre in Tuusula, designed by AFKS Architects, takes this premise commendably into consideration in relation to the urban structure. The building is easily accessible from all directions. Located just outside the city centre, it is placed on the edge of the plot, forming a backdrop for the west-facing yard. The maintenance and parking spaces are coherent, and the drop off traffic works as intended.
The yard of the daycare centre forms the central nurturing environment for the children. Landscape architect Soile Heikkinen has designed varied play worlds in the yard, in the middle of which is a small yard building that fits well with the overall architecture of the daycare centre. The implementation is encouraging: the yard will be excellent as long as the vegetation is given the time and opportunity to mature and eventually delineate the yard areas more clearly. There is a sufficient amount of yard space and a corner of it even comprises part of a preserved “wild” forest.
The daycare centre is named after an artist from Tuusula. Martta Wendelin (1893–1986) is known as a book illustrator, postcard artist and visual artist. The 130th anniversary of Wendelin’s birth is being commemorated this year.
The terrace that spans the whole length of the building – inspired by one of Wendelin’s forest paintings – and the impressive, uniform shape of the roof announce the building’s public character, even to those passing by in the distance. The arcade, with its openings of varying heights, resembles the arcades in Italian cities. A small bend at the main entrance and lobby gives the arcade a good rhythmic accent. In the interior, the same bend brings a small twist to the two-storey main lobby. With the exception of the arcade’s plywood-clad wall, the facades, with their skilfully designed openings typical of current styles, are clad in larch, which over time will turn grey.
The children’s entrances are placed at either end of the building: the main entrance hall is reached via two-storey porch-like stairwells. Thanks to the extensive longitudinal and transverse views and large windows, the main entrance forms an exceptionally spacious and bright lobby, from where one can proceed to the daycare units via sliding glass walls. The atmosphere feels natural and safe. At the time of writing, the daycare centre was still not in full use: only about 180 children were present in the facilities designed for 240. However, the generous dimensioning of the facilities makes one think that the ease of use will remain even when all the children are present. The interior acoustics seemed to work well, except for in the dining area. The subdued acoustics of the dining area is, of course, important, but on the other hand, who wants to eat inside a sock? Slightly harder acoustics might even be justified.
Wendelin’s presence is evident in the interior of the building in the paintings on the glass walls and in the alphabet boards on the wall of the lobby, based on concepts by interior architect Kai van der Puij. The paintings on glass, telling about Wendelin’s art, provide a colourful and imaginative addition to the mono-materiality. Van der Puij has also designed the semi-circular benches in the lobbies of the daycare units as well as other building parts related to the interior furnishings. He was also responsible for the design of the building’s “sensory room”: a place of silence, where through simple means, such as space-creating light-coloured curtains, coloured lighting and a soundscape, fairytale-like spatial experiences are created, as well as a relaxed feeling in the middle of the normal daycare hustle and bustle – a nice insight!
The Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre has been awarded the 2023 International Award for Wood Architecture by the international press. The award is certainly justified because, except for its foundations, the building is made entirely of solid wood. Wood construction is sometimes perceived as greenwashing. The Martta Wendelin Daycare Centre has rebutted this allegation. The construction materials have been selected based on the relatively strict assessment of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel: the non-toxicity requirements of the eco-label, which aims at eco-friendly construction, may, for example, make it difficult to use some traditional surface treatments. The daycare centre is one of the first buildings in Finland to receive the label. This can be seen especially in the interiors, where the material choices differ from the usual range consisting of plastic carpets. The wood floors receive mild criticism from the teachers present, but it’s worth getting used to the parquet flooring which creates a pleasant atmosphere.
What makes the daycare centre particularly interesting is its structural solution, which is based on transverse load-bearing CLT walls at 4,5 metre intervals. Structural engineer Antti Nurmi has calculated the openings in the interior walls so that their load-bearing capacity is maintained even with different types of openings, when the dimensions of the possible openings are followed in a template-like manner. The solution is not only flexible, as not all openings have to be made immediately and some can if necessary be closed, but also crucial in terms of the spatial rhythm of the centrally located lobbies. By varying the positions of the openings in the transverse walls, varying diagonal views and circulation routes are created, as well as a world of surprises for a small child.
When the basic layout of the building is in other respects clearly rational, to say the least, then the whole succeeds. It is evident in everything that the architect and structural engineer had a clear, professional vision of the possibilities and result offered by wood, as well as the necessary experience to implement their ideas. A word of commendation for the successful outcome also go to the Tuusula developer organization, which, instead of space efficiency, went in search of an ecologically sustainable daycare centre that will broaden a child’s world. ↙
Architect, non-fiction author, architecture and art critic. Reprints of Laaksonen’s books on Else Aropaltio and architects of Lauttasaari were published last summer.