In Search for the Centre

architects Mia Roth-Čerina, Tonči Čerina
project Lanište Kindergarten, Zagreb, Croatia
written by Robert Jonathan Loher

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The beauty of the profession of an architect lies in the fact that he or she can experience the transformation of an idea into a built work. Here, what is built certainly does not have to mark architecture as such, as much as a drawing does not have to mark an idea. True expression is somewhere on the relation head–heart of the one who creates.


The ancient Greek proverb ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ says that beauty is revealed only when we observe it, and transform the observed into a thought.


I remember their competition project which I merely glanced at. A picture from a poster remained, predominantly in red with grey and white shades, and a linear drawing in perspective which was situated in a circle. I noticed the unconventional shape which I found attractive and repulsive at the same time because of its archaic features. Nevertheless, the complexity of an idea is understood, like anything else complex, only by careful reading.


When Tonči took me for a walk through the kindergarten, I noticed that his words and gestures contained unusual care for the building even after it had been handed over for use by children and kindergarten teachers in September last year. He confirmed that architecture does not have to be finished as the last craftsman leaves, or with its technical acceptance, or even with positioning a building in the context of time and culture in subsequent analyses – it will permanently remain a constituent part of the one who has created it.



An idea cannot be trapped in a convention. Western achievements have taught us to experience matter and react to it. Our stimuli are mainly contaminated by familiar experiences and objects. Our world is a tangle of connections between things that come into being with the help of senses known to us. Still, what about those things which are not here, but make the here and now? I was wondering what this kindergarten was made of, without using familiar terms – multi-functional hall, kindergarten units, terraces...


In the tractate ‘Das Kunstlose Wort’ in which writer Fritz Neumeyer deals with a detailed analysis of the opus of architect Mies van der Rohe, Rohe’s first realization was described among others – the Riehl House (1911). The terrain was sloped and Mies already postulated elements here which were to accompany him throughout his life – colonnade, pedestal, structure versus tectonics. Of course, the house had a steep gabled roof in the spirit of that time. It was placed at the very edge of a pedestal which occupied the entire width of the plot. Four columns made the transition from the body of the roof to the pedestal, and at the same time created the exterior space. The question which Neumeyer asks is: what would the house be like without the roof? This question anticipates Mies’s entire subsequent development. The Riehl House would, naturally, survive without its roof as much as with it. The elements, or perhaps better, modules from which it was built were strong enough to outlive time.


I would take and use the principle of ‘reduce-in-order-to-confirm-the-rule’ from this digression. The kindergarten in Lanište can thus be divided into constituent parts, among which we perceive two axes as important – one which almost represents an extension of the street and the other perpendicular to it. Other assemblies will be analysed later on.


What do these straight lines really do? They can be in opposition to the bionic perception of the world around us. The world is not a Hobbit hole, but a place that needs to be structured. A line suggests order and peace, and it is the beginning of a system with which even the ancient Greeks organized the world. A grid grows out of a line, and columns grow out of a grid – and these are elements of the definition of space. A coordinate system is created.


In our case, there is a centre – the intersection of the two axes – which is not perceived in the life of the kindergarten. It is merely a sequence when passing towards focal points which are situated all around – primarily kindergarten units.



Is this not an illustration of the contemporary perception of the world? Are not hierarchies annulled in this way? Or systems of centralization? The number of focal points has increased from one to x, and all of them gravitate towards this virtual and incomprehensible centre.



Two kindergarten axes make the main system – one axis is made by the line main entrance–ramp within the building and the other, perpendicular to the first, works its way through the building from the entrance into the garden. The first axis is accompanied by another three parallel lines – one of circulation leading to the kindergarten units, a line of inner courts on the northern side of the units, and a row of kindergarten units.


I dare say that the kindergarten units take over the role of a big centre. They are the starting point and arrival point in the building. This is the place where they spend time, from where they go into the garden, where they play, make drawings, cut and paste – these are places where they feel safe and sheltered. A fountain on the upper floor with a skylight, which casts light ephemerally, provides this place with an almost forgotten dimension – the ritual of washing hands becomes the reason for gathering. The kindergarten units thus create a balance to the hidden centre of the building with their peripheral points – drinking fountain, terrace, and dressing room. They are arranged around the intersection, they surround it, but they never touch it.


A quite current topic at the present time is confirmed in this building – and this is the fact that the notion of a home which we know as ‘hearth’ has lost its original meaning. With all the efforts to preserve it, it is not the same as it used to be in the time of our parents due to the contemporary way of life. Home as such has gradually lost its value, and its surrogate consists of a number of smaller units – school, work place, free time, virtual world. The power of the kitchen and dining room as gathering places is transformed into a food service. Do we still know anything about the symbolic value of the table, fire, memories we carry with us from early days? About objects which we used to play with? We often go back to these notions, but we no longer touch them.



This why it is important for the places that replace our homes to be powerfully formed, and this is what we find in this kindergarten. A number of powerful elements are imprinted into the children’s subconscious and they leave high quality traces. They will not be burdened with too intense lighting, or aimless wandering around a courtyard, or too many partitions and corridors – these children acquire structure and organization at an early age which discretely impose themselves by means of architecture.


An advantage of this building is the fact that it is not (solely) a photogenic architectural artefact, but can also exist without architecture – it is an envelope of a much more powerful institution – an idea.