Winning design by NEXT and Christensen & Co for the nature-inclusive Child Center Cartesius

NEXT architects and Christensen & Co architects created the winning design for a sustainable children’s center in the new Cartesius quarter in Utrecht. The design organizes the combined program of primary school, nursery and sports hall in a flowing spiral around a green heart, in a compact and nature-inclusive building.

Cartesius is a new district in Utrecht that is being built on a former NS industrial property. The design for the district was created by Mecanoo and inspired by the so-called ‘blue zones’, five areas in the world where people live remarkably long and healthy lives. What characterizes the five areas has been translated into four themes for the Utrecht district: exercise, healthy food, community spirit and meaning and relaxation.

Greenery and buildings
The Amsterdam-based NEXT architects and Christensen & Co from Copenhagen have also taken the characteristics of the blue zones as their starting point in their winning design for the Child Center Cartesius and “transformed them into usable conditions for care and education, where nature and sustainability play a role. important role.”

The complex is part of the green loop that will surround the district; it forms a detached object where the green space flows into, over and through, according to the architects. The building is also architecturally in dialogue with two other free-standing objects in the area: the residential building Solo by Zecc Architects and the existing dJGA traffic control post. The three designs are all more or less characterized by rounded corners, cantilevers in the facade and horizontality.

smooth movement
The design of the children’s center is based on the continuous learning line, where education and care come together, and a fluid movement is created, where the child’s development is central, the architects explain. The architecture follows this fluid movement: the combined program is organized in a spiral around the green heart.

This ensures a natural flow through the building and also creates a safe environment that promotes interaction between users. At the same time, each age phase has its own place in the building, which is logically linked to the next phase. In this way, the qualities of the educational environment move together with the trajectory that the child follows during his schooling.

“The architecture guides the child’s development through the different age phases”, says architect Marijn Schenk from NEXT. “Here, a building can also play an educational role with different types of rooms that challenge children to explore. With hills to climb on the interior and caves that provide security and a bird’s nest where the oldest children can look out over the city.”

Børnecenter Cartesius will be an energy-neutral building (ENG), in line with the municipality’s ambition to realize the most sustainable and circular building in the Netherlands. Folkeskolen is designed as a bio-based building. The building will have a clear identity and design, with recognizable entrances.

Experience nature
The architects take the landscape in the green loop upwards to transform the complex into roof gardens. “For us, the landscape and the green loop do not stop at the building’s facades, and the learning environment does not stop at the start of the landscape,” says architect Mikkel Hermann Sørensen from Christensen & Co. “We see opportunities to strongly intertwine building and landscape.”

The building incorporates nature, whereby nature is made rich in experiences in different places, the architects explain. The complex will be equipped with nest boxes, bee hotels and tiny forests; the roof gardens include vegetable gardens. Students and teachers will be able to see and experience nature anywhere.

Child Center Cartesius is a project of the municipality of Utrecht and will start in 2023 in a temporary location. Completion of the new building is planned for 2025. The winning design was created by NEXT and Christensen & Co, in collaboration with Bureau B+B Urbanism and Landscape Architecture, Breed Integrated Design, Deerns, GGMR and Vitrivius Bouwkostenadvies.

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