As kindergartens in China adopt a three-grade system, for this new one in the city of Yangzhong, Jiangsu Province, the Shanghai-based architectural studio PERFORM proposed three interwoven hexagonal volumes, with each volume holding the classrooms of a given grade, and each has a courtyard inside.

All the programs are organized around three courtyards that have identical plan shapes but varied floor numbers, resulting in an overlapping and cascading massing form. The classrooms are on the top floor of each volume to maximize their natural light access and ventilation. Other supporting programs – music and art studios, a library, a multipurpose hall, a kitchen and teachers’ offices – are located on the lower floors.

Three courtyards differ in their character and materiality. For easy access, Junior Grade children reside in the classrooms around the one-story lawn courtyard. Middle Grade children migrate to the second level of the second courtyard, which features a mound-like wooden platform that is the roof of the multipurpose hall below. The third courtyard is to host Senior Grade children, and the architects proposed a concrete paving courtyard which can also collect rainwater and turn into a shallow wading pool during hot weather.

While each courtyard seems to clearly belong to each different grade, the open circulation spaces or shortcuts between the courtyards allow the children to easily leave their own courtyard and explore other less familiar spaces. The juxtaposition of three hexagons produces an unpredicted spatial complexity. The spiritual center of the kindergarten is an outdoor amphitheater that slopes down from the mound of the second courtyard, partially covered by the roof of the third courtyard.

The close adjacency between the courtyards provides children convenience to step out onto the roof terraces of the neighboring courtyards, and enjoy diverse outdoor activities, including peeking down to the lower floor classroom interiors through the roof skylights. The curvilinear walkways loop around and lead children back to their own courtyard.

The exterior facades of the classrooms are covered by metal louvers, with one color corresponding to one grade. The migration of the colored louvers from ground floor to the top floor, visible both within and without the courtyards, reinforces the concept of children growth, which is celebrated here both at independent moments in time, and collectively through time.