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In the thick of it!

The former margarine factory at Sagene lies in the heart of Oslo and was an exciting choice when Oslo City Council needed to provide kindergarten places for 500 children.

The project presented unique challenges due to the size and area of the existing factory – also listed as a protected building under Norwegian law. This project demonstrates how a restoration project can be enhanced by universal design ideas when they are integrated into the design process and the architectural outcomes.

A unique project

‘Alternatively called ‘an exciting growth’ or ‘a social experiment’, the differences of opinion have been many and varied concerning the large, new kindergarten at Sagene. However, the regeneration of the building itself is something that most people can agree is a success. The project was particularly well thought through and has resulted in a light, welcoming kindergarten with good ventilation and acoustics. The project included one new building, but it is the old factory which has received the most attention. The building was originally designed by Thv. Astrup and built during the 1920s.

Major challenges

”One of the greatest challenges was to crack the building code,” says Per Arne Bjørnstad, architect and owner of the architecture office NAV A.S. “It was quite a challenge to transform the old factory into a modern building, with an optimal understanding of logistics and function. The building is a noteworthy signal building from the early 1900s, and features many qualities from the great age of industry. But it was run down and carried the distinctive signs of a life mechanical production and not of humanity. Now the machines are being removed and the building will become both functional and contemporary for young and old alike.”

The structure of the building was in such a sorry state that all old plasterwork had to be removed and the interior walls recovered. The external facade was also improved, before being painted with a ’breathable paint’. The original roof was covered in slates but this was considered to be unsuitable and a copper roof was installed after additional insulation was laid.

“Several original details from the building remain and are positive elements in today’s solution. For example the high windows and ceilings provide extensive and healthy lighting," explains Per Arne. ”But the installation of sprinkler systems and ducting for the air conditioning systems was a major challenge, in particular in spaces where the ceiling heights were lower. We sought a solution which in part adapted the building’s structure, and in part complemented the expansion of installations without sacrificing the qualities of the building itself.”

”As the main floor lay 1.2m above ground level, ramps and bridges had to become an intrinsic element of the functional whole, in order to ensure good open communications for everyone," he says.

Ventilation could have easily become a problem but with an innovation of sheer genius this was resolved without major difficulties. ”We found a solution which was based upon the principles of hybrid ventilation without the need for normal ducting.

“By gathering the entire supply into one core, with gratings and valves, we solved all the challenges and could save the original quality of the building,” says Per Arne.

Playful and functional

The Kindergarten houses 30 units each with 24 children. The entranceways to the units have special markings in a variety of colours and different materials. Folios on the door surrounds create a good contrast and pictographic symbols show the way. The graphic design follows a logical interior division in which colours and graphics function as visual coding for the various departments. The graphic elements across pillars and walls also function as a guide. Contrasting colour schemes in a harmonious palette give identity to the various zones and underline their use, as well as providing orientation for the visually impaired. The end walls also provide good contrast, as does coloured lighting.

”One special opportunity in creating a kindergarten was the freedom to play with colours. Universal design, for example in the use of visual tools, is integral to the notion of holistic solutions. In other types of building more homogenous expressions are common for interiors and furnishings,” says Per Arne, adding that universal design is not something to be worked around, but rather an integral part of design. It is simply a matter of solving it, not letting the challenge become a problem.

”It goes without saying that inclusivity is a central notion in most projects now. The responsibility given by the council in individual projects is tied to the interpretation and understanding of the regulations,” he says.

Positive alliances

When asked what was of particular importance in a process such as this, Per Arne responded with good, constructive and positive meetings, close dialogue with the user bodies and organisations such as the Norwegian Association for the Blind and Partially Sighted and the Norwegian Association for the Disabled, the client (Omsorgsbygg), the construction consultant Apeland and the contractors Wegger and Kvalsvik. User involvement, including physical testing, was also essential to gain optimal solutions, both outside and in. It was also important to work closely with the landscape architects Studio HP, who were responsible for the external area.

”This area was also very demanding, but we succeeded by extending the base/zone organisational structure, as well as making all the areas both open and inclusive. Extensive use of case rubber to prevent fall injuries was a solution which provided safe constraints. The material is also very responsive with regards to playing with colours and also for exterior surface flooring. In addition to providing a space that would be used by such a large number of children, the specifications also demanded that the area should be open and could be used by the public as a park at times when the kindergarten was closed,” says Per Arne.

Managing space

When we calculated the space requirements for the children we took into consideration that about half the children would be over three years of age and the rest would be under three. The latter require more space per head. We also considered a rate of absence of between 8 and 10 percent, although actual attendance is estimated at around 75%. Between the two buildings at Margarinfabrikken kindergarten there is space for 600 children, but it was agreed with the Planning and Development office, through planning and development processes, that an operational capacity of 540 children and 140 adults would be suitable.

"That sounds like a lot of people, but structuring a potentially chaotic macro cosmos into a manageable micro cosmos though division into clear units means that the distribution of children was not overwhelming," says Per Arne. “There is plenty of space for each child in this kindergarten. They have access to a stimulating playground where everything has been prepared to create positive motivation and stimulating play and learning,” he concludes.

PUBLISHED 17.10.2011 13:59

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