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Engaging building. Award-winning design of a modular kindergarten in Michalowice

29 of March '21

In the competition for the design of an energy-efficient kindergarten in Michalowice, settled on December 17, 2020, the Competition Jury, chaired by Maria Saloni-Sadowska, did not choose the winners of the first prize - it awarded two second, equal places, a third prize, as well as three honorable mentions and two honorable mentions [competition results]. The latter went to architects Patrycja Okuljar and Malgorzata Zmyslowska, whose work, for formal reasons (four of the designs submitted to the competition did not include one of the attachments), was not qualified for evaluation.

The work was highly rated by the Competition Jury, but was not subject to further evaluation due to significant formal deficiencies. They appreciated the thoughtful location of the building and the original way of shaping the architecture. The delicate, curved pavilion body was covered with a pulpit roof and varied by two expressive ventilation chimneys. Light in appearance, the friendly interiors open up to the surrounding greenery. A spacious, glass-enclosed corridor-hall creates space for indoor and outdoor entertaining, the jury opinion reads.

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bird's eye view

© Patrycja Okuljar Architektur, M-OST Małgorzata Zmysłowska, visualizations: Dorota Ryzko

Architect Patrycja Okuljar, who works in Switzerland on a daily basis, talks about long-distance design cooperation, differences in competition processes in Poland and Switzerland, and priorities in shaping a space friendly to the youngest.

Ola Kloc
: You created the competition project in an international team, how did you manage to cooperate at a distance? What was your design process like?

Patrycja Okuljar: The competition project for an energy-efficient kindergarten was not our first experience of working remotely. Malgorzata Zmyslowska, with whom we worked on the project together, has lived and worked in Germany for years, while I have lived in Switzerland.

In recent years, we have developed methods that allow us to work on a project as a team, without having to be physically in the same place. However, in this case, the situation was definitely more difficult and different than before. Pandemic makes it impossible to move around, and as a result, the entire project process had to take place through Internet communication programs.

During previous projects we worked on together, we always held several in-person meetings, mainly in the initial, conceptual phase of the project, meeting for a few days in Berlin, Zurich or Warsaw, on working models and sketches we defined the main assumptions and design ideas.

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mockup photo

© Patrycja Okuljar Architektur, M-OST Małgorzata Zmysłowska

This time there was not only no opportunity to meet in person in our architectural team, which incidentally consisted of three female architects [design team composition: Patrycja Okuljar, Dorota Ryzko, Lenz Schnell, Malgorzata Zmyslowska - editor's note], but also meetings with experts had to be held online. Due to the specifics of the project, we invited great experts in the field of modern green building technologies to join the team: Marco Waldhauser of Waldhauser & Hermann, Jens Schuster of Basler & Hofmann and Ivan Brühwiler of Josef Kolb.

I think that when working on this project between Berlin - Zurich - Warsaw - Basel - Egliswil - Romanshorn, the experience of working online, which was enforced by Covid-19 back in March of the previous year, helped. Working at the time for the Zurich office of Roger Boltshauser Architekten on a major project for an innovative wooden high-rise residential building, we had to adapt at short notice to frequent online meetings, often in groups of up to thirty people.

We had less than a month for the kindergarten project. This is very little, especially since the competition project was one of several we were working on at the time. Moreover, in the conditions in which we work abroad, the exchange of knowledge between individual experts is important and affects the quality of the project. This requires additional time for communication, so it was necessary to set a strict schedule for online meetings.

In retrospect, it is worth noting that online meetings with predetermined topics force the preparation of materials and presentations for the project team, and this enables faster decision-making (so crucial for competition projects). Programs like Zoom or Teams allow everyone involved to make quick drafts, share documents and materials. An additional factor is time, which seems more controlled in front of a monitor than often sitting at a communal table.

: The work, although not qualified for evaluation, was appreciated by the Competition Jury for the original way of shaping the architecture - a curved pavilion body with a pulpit roof and two expressive ventilation chimneys. What is the reason for the shape of the block proposed by you?

Patricia: The lump of the kindergarten is the result of the entire design process. One of the most important stages in the process for us is to get to know and understand the site for the new building. Understanding the context. The plot of land on which the future kindergarten building is to be built is located at the intersection of important streets for Michalowice. The character of the place is given by trees: oaks, lindens, a grove of birches or aspens. Preservation of the natural tree stand and limiting tree cutting to a minimum was one of our top priorities from the beginning. The neighboring areas are low-rise single-family houses in the greenery. It is also dominated by the tower of the nearby Blessed Virgin Mary Church and the chimney of the elementary school on the other side of Raszynska Street. In our proposed solution, we tried to preserve the view of them and, through the new development, create a matching ensemble that will not dominate the existing buildings, but complement them.

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site development plan

© Patrycja Okuljar Architektur, M-OST Małgorzata Zmysłowska

In the following design stages, we tried to respond best to the client's guidelines. The building was to meet the requirements of an energy-efficient building. It was to be a place for small users to spend time. Children need adequate daylight in the building, and when playing outside, they should be able to spend time in a friendly space where play noise will not be harmful to adjacent residential buildings. The restrictions outlined by the PZPM, along with an extensive program, ruled out a single-story building - the most child-friendly typology. Taking all these factors into account, we proposed an engaging building, opening in its form to the greenery, creating themed playgrounds on the southwest side. We wanted the corridor not only to serve a communicative function, but to become an in-beetwen zone for children, between inside and outside.

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kindergarten corridor

© Patrycja Okuljar Architektur, M-OST Małgorzata Zmysłowska, visualizations: Dorota Ryzko

We proposed a building with prefabricated-wood technology. Not only did we choose an environmentally friendly material - wood, but we proposed a modular solution, allowing the client to shorten the construction of the new building to a maximum of three months.

Taking into account the high costs generated by the basement of the building, we gave it up, proposing to locate the entire building technology in the above-ground parts. The function of the two chimneys is not only to light the stairwells. They also serve the function of the chimneys and space for the location of the ventilation and heating and cooling system. On the entire roof slope, we proposed colored solar panels made of laminated glass, which define the character of the fifth façade and which would provide the building with energy self-sufficiency.

The situation that the work was not qualified for evaluation, given the ignoring of the comments sent to the Organizer by the participants, and the final repeated changing of the provisions on the form of submission, which - as in the case of ours and other disqualified works - resulted in a formal deficiency, only emphasizes the need for debate and changes in the broad form of architectural competition in Poland.
If there is anything we can learn from Swiss architecture, which has been so eagerly copied without understanding by Polish designers in recent times, it is certainly the structure of the preparation and conduct of the competition process.

: What was your priority in making the massing, landscaping and interiors friendly to their youngest users?

Patrycja: The most important thing for us with each project is the broad context and the needs of the future user of the building. We wanted the building to open in its form to trees and playgrounds on one side, creating a safe, semi-open space for the youngest, and to catch the sun on the other. Similar to a lens - focusing the greenery and diffusing the sun's rays.

It was important to us that the interiors were defined by natural materials - wood and clay plaster. We assigned separate colors to each group, so that each child could identify with their space. The preschool classrooms offer different quality spaces and places to play, run or play hide-and-seek.

{Image@url=,alt=wnętrze of one of the classrooms,title=interior of one of the classrooms}

interior of one of the classrooms

© Patrycja Okuljar Architektur, M-OST Małgorzata Zmysłowska, visualizations: Dorota Ryzko

Thanks to the modular structure, the future user would have the flexibility to adapt the space to changing needs - for example, combining two classrooms into one or dividing larger classrooms into smaller ones at will.

We are convinced that the behavioral experience of a qualitative (i.e., well-designed) space by young users has an impact on the child's better development and, in their adult life, can influence a conscious understanding of the value of a well-designed space and respect for the environment.

Ola: Thank you for the interview.

Ola Kloc

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