Crystal Lee Ann
Meeting of the Miniature: Child, Microbe and Navigating Through Unseen Natures

Thesis Supervisor: Wu Yen Yen

Site: Bukit Timah First Diversion Canal, Singapore

Email: anncrystal.lee@gmail.com

Human misconceptions of the Microbe have had implications on the architecture of the childcare, perpetuating a cyclical loop of disease. The thesis proposes an architectural typology for the childcare driven by a new pedagogy of microbial health. The project serves as a commentary on the whitewashing of the childcare, embodied by the 19th Century Sanitation Movement which principles continue to hold fast in our building practices today. For example, the use of white walls, a general avoidance of marshy grounds or widespread use of easily sanitised impermeable surfaces, even though bacteria actually survive for a shorter period on soft, permeable 

surfaces like fabric. It conveys the message that Dirt is not unhealthy but is in fact, the “ideal, hygienic” environment for the development of a healthy, resilient child and may be entrusted for his upbringing and care.

 

‘Whitewashing’ is clearly exhibited by the site, which is a stormwater drain located at Bukit Timah, culturally perceived as unclean infrastructure that quickly carries unwanted discharge away from living areas, going against the grain of what is regarded to be a mark of modernity.

Instead of sanitised space, Architecture is a receptacle for the Microbe, creating an augmented naturalistic environment that amplifies otherwise transitory moments. 

Interaction of the built environment with the natural landscape contributes to and is the reason for a diversity of microbial environments. 

Architecture hosts and accepts the crude notion of diversity

Traditionally, childcare centres are set in homogeneous environments. For example, Forest School of Charlottenburg set in a forest, or Fuji Kindergarten set in a grass plain. Rather, the project aims to bring separate diverse environments into one spatial location. . Rather, the project aims to bring separate diverse environments into one spatial location. 

Architectural boundaries are blurred through the device of a Klein Bottle - multiple transitions mark the movement from interior to exterior. 

Within each realm a child interacts with nature in different ways, drawing affinities to program dictated by microbial health. A child is moved from realm to realm governed by activity of or optimal conditions for microbes, mostly in accordance to the time of day.

Diverse microbial environments in a single spatial location

In response to the wrongness of ‘monoculture’ in our approach to both healthcare and architecture, three realms were created in congruity with natural elements on site and their associated microbes.

Considering that Microbes are ubiquitous and unable to be isolated to particular environmental conditions, gradations of space, defined by their degree of exposure to the naturalistic environment, were created to handle dysbiosis (allergen) and spontaneous pathogen activation (infection) with sensitivity. Fluid, open spaces are punctuated with checkpoints that take the form of architecture i.e. change in scale, light, material or level. Pedagogues are aided by architecture to regulate access of these spaces to children, depending on their response to the environment or at the request of parents. This is particularly salient in the current climate of health where new types of allergens have begun to surface. Two main user groups, 0 to 2 year olds and 3 to 6 year olds, are differentiated by their mobility and microbial tolerances. 0 to 2 year olds are housed at the core of each realm (with the highest degree of exposure), since their immunities are most malleable. 3 to 6 year olds serve as microbial vectors, whose curated movement through the childcare allows them to accumulate and deposit a diversity of microbial communities at the core. This is achieved architecturally through the proximity of spaces coupled with program. 

The new childcare aspires to Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, redefining a child’s perception of ecology, health and sickness. Children are educated to visualise a new kind of ‘healthful’ space that may not be entirely white or entirely green. Children learn a new form of ecological intelligence through awareness of the body and its response to the environment, with architecture as a tool to test boundaries or as a space of retreat. Pedagogues also start to adopt new roles as administrators of microbial health and mediators of a child and his environment. The new childcare is not understood as a school, but childcare in its literal term for holistic health and well-being. The following series of vignettes depict various grades of space within each realm. Conceptualised as campaign posters that target parents of young children, we are  forced to question our definition of Dirt vis-a-vis health.

Historically, the childcare served a secondary role as a centre for educating working mothers, such that ‘sanitised’ children did not return to filthy slums. The new childcare also possesses a dual purpose of extending microbial benefits to the neighbourhood as an urban park-cum-rehabilitation centre on weekends. It shall be regarded less as a recreational facility, and instead a space to engage with nature in experimental, absurdist ways all in the name of diversity of the microbiome.

It encourages one to embrace this understated way of health; effects that were thought to be purely psychological are now legitimate through an enhanced understanding of the microbe. The childcare shall champion the education of ecological intelligence, establishing a new way of relating to the environment, revamping our perception of and approach to health.

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