Riverside Child Care Center

Southampton, New York
1989
Unbuilt Project - Nagel + Lesser Architects

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The Riverside Childcare Center is a community facility for the daytime care and education of pre-school age children sponsored by and located in the Town of Southampton, New York and projected for completion during 1991.

The facility will house a highly successful on-going program for eligible children from the surrounding community furnished by a licensed Head Start day care provider. Long Island Day Care Services, under the auspices of the Community Development Department of the Town, which has nurtured the creation of this federally-assisted project over the past several years.

The required program of spaces includes five classrooms, each for twenty children plus 1-2 teachers and zoned in three parts - materials/support, reading and play areas - with ready access to an interior social common space and exterior play areas. A special classroom, the multipurpose room, serves as an indoor physical activity area, a meeting room and as a space that in off-hours can be shared with community groups. To support the whole care function of the program, a kitchen provides the children with both scheduled meals served in the classroom and impromptu snacks. The administrative office areas include space for supervisory functions as well as a specialized office group and waiting area for the parent counseling staff which provides the outreach and advisory role extending the child care beyond the Center.

The Center like many that we visited will doubtless be a beehive of activity, and the cellular intensity conjured up by this image was not lost upon us. High, almost a Unite loft in shape, each classroom maximizes light and wall area to make an indoor space that is almost outdoors {you forget the ceiling as a child). In warmer weather, the classrooms open directly outdoors, but every day, each classroom works inside as well like a large workshop where busy children play at the sunny end, paint, draw and take their meals at the service end, and nap and read and tell stories in the shady spot in the middle. (A standard part of the care program, cots are stored for a short rest period each day right in the classroom).

Surrounded by bulletin boards lining the classroom and hall walls (each classroom unit has a tack-surfaced and windowed facade that makes a little shop front in the classroom hall), the surfaces of the building that surround these busy children are all meant to be in short order awash with the products of their creative energy. We like to think that, seen from the road, the Center became as much as those active walls a big colored billboard sculpted and polychromed by and for the children.

Placed deep on the site to isolate and protect the children's classroom and play areas from the road and parking areas, the building has been given a simple linear diagram that derives from the program provider's satisfaction with a side-by-side array of the required classrooms along a generous common hall, which doubles as both as circulation and the needed common social space, as the best organization for the program's functional requirements. Once established, that diagram furnished the armature on which the rest of the program elements were fixed, zoned the site into more or less public and private layers, and established the directions - to the west and south - of future growth.

The classroom hall took the form of a brightly-colored glazed arcade. Warmer in coloration than a caution sign, its rubber floor and fenestration have been given a fruity yellow pigmentation (the paint manufacturer named it after nectarines) as much to add back the sunshine lacking in this north-facing space as to bring the friendly school bus right to each classroom door.

Outside and in front this arcade became a rendered background for the soft whites and grays of the stucco and light matrix ground-face block of which the entrance canopy, the round multipurpose room and the monitor-roofed kitchen, as well as the classroom and office structure behind, are composed.

Exceptional as functions in this program, these foreground elements require proximity to the vehicular circulation to do their work, and as such, have an intrinsic immediacy enabling them to first inform and impress as well as serve the users. So for the children who are the primary beneficiaries off the Center, square, circle and triangle, cube, cylinder and pyramid predominate in the form of these elements, derived as they are from the inspiration of children's toys - plastic blocks, drums, and bathtub boats – writ large. Approached from the road, the exceptional elements embellish the colored wall tike three-dimensional graphics on a signboard. Objects against a line, they march across the view like inflated characters on parade, beckoning the children with the promise of fun and adventure.

A bigger-than-life pop-up card, this Center is no ordinary school building, but is instead an enormous open book, and the story told recounts the excitement of play, of learning and of belonging to be found inside.