The Dark Utopia

architects Vedran Pedišić, Emil Špirić, Erick Velasco Farrera, Juan José Núñez Andrade
project Kajzerica School and Kindergarten, Zagreb, Croatia
written by Divna Antičević

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When we read and listen to the comments about a newly-opened educational institution, we reach the conclusion that battles are fought over the look of the façade. As soon as the first visualisation appears, a debate between the supporters of monochromatic tones and those of rich colours begins. All things aside, concerns will be expressed if the new school or kindergarten is too cold or too infantile. Long-awaited schools will be welcomed by the mixture of resignation and relief – we finally have it, but it could have been better. This task of the buildings, to affirm their value, is rather unfortunate. They have to function perfectly, but also have a certain something; they have to please very young as well as adult observers, along with common bystanders who no longer spend time in the facilities. If you add to the list the need to generate activities in an, until-now, passive neighbourhood, it is clear why the result of the programme is eagerly anticipated.


Kajzerica neighbourhood, fixed on the south bank of the Sava River, has been in an urban status quo situation for a long time. However, this neighbourhood, with the eclectic combination of the firm complex of the Zagreb Fair, recreational area of the hippodrome and the sports facilities, uniform family houses and neglected city terrains, has been undergoing changes during the last couple of years. The competitions for the construction of kindergartens, schools, craft centre, rehabilitation institution uriho, and the seecel regional centre, indicate that the look of this chaotic neighbourhood will be changed. The kindergarten and the school are particularly important to the residents of Kajzerica; their construction was planned as early as in the 1990s, and the civic initiative was launched which has long fought for the construction of the buildings.


The educational complex has been designed for a wide area south from the main intersecting road of the Kajzerica neighbourhood, the area of dense vegetation growing by the river. The project designed by the architectural studio Sangrad won the competition in 2008. The complex was supposed to include two kindergarten units (Croatian and French-German), and three educational units (general class teaching, specialised class teaching of a Croatian primary school, French-German primary school and French-German college). The original plan was abandoned during the construction, so the buildings at Kajzerica today house a Croatian primary school, high school and the kindergarten. All stages of the social development of a child thus meet in a common area, the programmes functionally different, as much as they are similar.


Due to differences in their use, the volumes of the kindergarten and the school are separated, but there is a loose connection by the common access square. Lower, simpler and gentler volume houses the kindergarten, while the schools are located in the higher volume which has a more complex network and an underground connection to a three-part sports hall. The elevation of classroom tracts on columns created a square which is spread between and under, and which does not only aim to unite this complex for children, but to become the meeting place of the whole neighbourhood. Spatial memory is used to achieve that goal; the seemingly freely placed columns of the structure of different cross sections are trying to evoke the dense vegetation which grew on location before the intervention. Next to specific spatial experiences, the relation between the volumes and the alteration of full and empty – covered and uncovered outdoor area, paved ground and vegetation, also offers various possibilities of use, and thus increases the chance that this area will be accepted by the neighbourhood population. The walk around the school square evokes a specific feeling of inclusion, as well as isolation. The pupils walk around the same area during their break. There are no transition zones towards a more private outdoor area – everything is available, and you are a part of life which is being enjoyed there every day. The front façade of the school and the fence around the kindergarten draw a clear social and physical border, which allows you to participate, but to an appropriate extent.


Once we leave the exterior area, we enter the area of strict order; the plans are perfectly functional, with no incoherencies or experiments; they stick to the idea of the simplest solution being the best. The entrances are strictly separated, there as the consequence of a multinational programme which was supposed to be included in the building. Nursery on the ground floor and the kindergarten on the first floor are in a regular line with the multi-purpose space at the end of the building. Classrooms and school cabinets are situated in three parallel tracts, as opposed to the common area of the multi-purpose area, library and administration units which are located on the ground floor, in a transverse volume which logically connects the whole system. Although it is clear that the decisions of the designers are the result of the originally established programme, some things may have been done differently than by the book; the exciting idea of the exterior should have been transferred into the interior where it would surely be more successful. Narrow corridors need a spatial break and social areas might have become more than just a room at the end of the corridor.


The synergy of the technical solutions and the design, as well as the attention given to detail, however, cannot be denied. It is a low-energy building which uses the resources of the underground waters of the neighbourhood, which should definitely be complimented, especially considering the size of the complex. The selection of colours, materials and the furniture was carefully made. Acoustic boards are functional and have aesthetic value, announcement boards are situated just where they should be, and the colours are neither too aggressive nor unpleasantly cold, due to the extensive use of wood. Many issues are yet to be handled – the school was opened just a couple of months ago – but there is no doubt that everything will be completed with the same precision as at the beginning. The details show that every aspect of the project has been carefully examined, such as the classrooms which are coded, not by the colour of the door or the walls, but by the floors which reflect the tones and thus give a specific aura to the area; or the serious dark grey façade which is invigorated by wooden frames used to indicate surface openings. The sports hall is particularly pleasant; its clerestory lighting gives a different view than the one we are used to. Such micro inventions, often overlooked in the first stages of the project, again prove that it takes more than a nice plan to build a house, and draw an important distinction between merely done and carefully planned.


The concept of this demanding system emerged on the basis of natural characteristics, a strong need to have something really functional, and the irrefutable fact that Kajzerica neighbourhood needs a social centre. The building which was created here brought order into the community and stabilized the area of chaos. On one hand, it does what every building would do – it houses a specific programme. On the other hand, it has gone a step further and has become the anchor of the area, offering more than just a regular school. This town in small scale has decided to generate a big city, the real city. At this moment, it is hard to say whether this idea will blossom, but we can hope that the Kajzerica population will recognize the idea, and develop a relationship with this complex which will offer more than just an opinion on the colour of its façades.