Purple Elephant is an International School for early year student (18 months to 3 years) located at Thong lor — the heart of Bangkok’s CBD. Their philosophy is to dedicate a child-centered environment respecting the diversity of children and the uniqueness of each one. Therefore, the school commits to provide an aesthetically beautiful environment that evokes the exploration, the creativity and the knowledge.
Our first inspection at site was very impressive to see an existing mid-century house surrounded by many existing trees. However, the site is not so large and surrounded by one of the high density district in Bangkok.
We came up with the design’s key framework that comprehensively based on how to create “the urban ecology” ultimately encouraging “Learning process by outdoor play within nature”. The tools in design were;
1. To keep all existing trees on site and implement local plant that can promote the urban ecology.
2. To maximize virgin green area on ground as much as we can by having all structures to be elevated.
3. To implement all materials which can be removable and degradable in the future, therefore bamboo, timber and steel are key materials on site.
4. To comply with the ministry of Education “Safety code for school”
The master plan started by the site survey to collect the relevant data of existing trees and to analyze the existing site’s micro ecology. We found the important information; later became one of the design’s criteria that all existing trees were mature and home for local living creatures.
The planning work carefully took the existing trees as a primary element allowing most of the functions to be elevated. The up and down walkway meandered around the garden with 1:10 slope basically provided the accessibility to all specific functions creating the sense of exploration along the way for kids. Different levels of the elevated trail led the kids to different discovery of the natural setting and habitats. The garden became “urban forest” as home for creatures; butterflies, insects, squirrels, birds, etc. Materials were either removable by metal steel or degradable by timber and bamboo.
The entire space invites everyone not only kids but also teachers and parents to come out and sit, walk, run, duck or climb that makes fun, movement and motor skills. Variety of spaces is for different needs of users. More activities are related to the loop as well: outdoor pocket classrooms, which can also be used for group work. Whereas small curve seat can be used for individual.
All visual elements started from the door step are unlikely traditional school entrance but approach with dominant form and material outstanding from surrounding that attract people to this place. Moreover, when in the site, the harmonious of natures and man-made objects are perfectly stayed. All hardscape and softscape are integrated and will be part of each other.
“Play is the highest form of research” said Albert Einstein, that initiates the concept that evoke sense of exploration, endeavor the creativity and promote the learning process via “Play” among the natural atmosphere.
The design was strategically integrated garden, playground and outdoor classroom as one large garden connected by elevated boardwalk. Each level intended to illustrate different state of learning nature promoting the urban ecology. Start from ground to study the earth and sand. Secondly “The Fallen log” was full of ecology of humus, beetle insects, frog, and low plants. Thirdly “Have seeds will travel” was seeding plants and grasshopper ecology, while the next layer was “Flower blooms” which consisted of medium flowering plants and butterflies. Semi-final layer was “Looking at leaves” full of high shrubs and small trees which children can get to touch them and this layer will give squirrel’s ecology. The final layer was “Get in touch with tree” that they can see the greatness of big trees such as Syzygium malaccense (L.) Merrill & Perry, Antidesma ghaesembilla Gaerth which not only provided birds’ ecology, but also provided canopy for people.
To move around the garden with the efficient accessibility and safety was the first priority of design, boardwalk with proper pedestrian slope and balustrade were provided and encouraged kids to flow around the garden. The boardwalk went up and down creating the unexpected experience and brought kids to the functional spaces such as outdoor classroom, tiger blind station, sand pit. The details of all seize and stick had been taking care of without any screw-head, no sharp edge of railing, and pay attention to kids’ scale.
Inspired by the form of hive, the entrance gate and greeting area were unique and mostly cladded with natural material which can be interpreted as a helpful of group of bees or people’s power. This gimmick been using as a moving artifice of the gate which children can play with and become a symbolic detail of this project. This detail also been applied to a detail of bird-blind. A small opening that kids can use their hand clicking open and close to observe birds, insects, and squirrel without disturb those creatures’ life.
As the space planning started from the survey on all existing trees on site. The planning of all required programs must be precisely located in relation with the existing tree’s location.
The water center has been created as an outdoor laboratory on the deck, under the shade of the Grandpa Specimen Tree. Also the entry of building was designed to be a waiting area for parents that the trees have been provided to integrate as part of seat-wall.
It is so important for kids to have unstructured, free play time. Thus it will be better if they can learn and play at the same time. Our landscape element are encouraged the fun of exploring. The space will be facilitated kids to climb and duck, run and sit, learn and relax.
One of the most significant design cores is to create the lush and sustainable environment for users with low maintenance planting selection. Since come to this school, people will be astonished with rich green impact. According to the raised educational trail that create more surface of planting area, we can get more green spaces under the limited condition of the size of land. Furthermore, at this place, the coexistence will be balance among people, creatures, vegetables, and societies.
Name of the project: The Purple Elephant
Project category: Schools and playgrounds
Project location: 79 Soi Thong Lor 8, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2016