Site visit: Ladybird Early Learning CentreAugust 15, 2016, 4:30 pm GMT
Allowing pre-school age children the ability to learn through exploring their surroundings is the aim behind a pioneering project in Dubai by architecture firm Godwin Austen Johnson.
The team said it quickly realised that new teaching methods are a driving force which design needs to be able to accommodate so greater emphasis had to be placed on flexibility, and a holistic approach was vital.
Because of its sustainable design the Ladybird centre has been awarded a Gold certification by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
Architect Jason Burnside says: "We didn't achieve this with add-ons. It was the opposite. It was there from the very beginning with our emphasis on the use of as much natural resource as possible."
The Ladybird Early Learning Centre is due to open its doors this month as the school year starts and will cater for children as young as six months old.
Burnside worked closely alongside interior designer Kathryn Brown to ensure the design allowed for maximum interaction between the children themselves and the members of staff and made as much use as possible of natural resources.
Burnside notes: "In many ways this school is a prototype. We wanted to get away from the whole idea of a villa which is just converted to a nursery and create something unique.
"It is largely low-tech and simple. There are no windfarms or solar panels. Instead we have made use of natural light and allowed the air to circulate as much as possible.
"All of the design highlights the relationship between the outside environment and the interior. The spaces invite the children to explore.
"For six months of the year, at least, the climate is fine outside and the children can enjoy it. There is a shaded space outside, so reading and learning can take place in the open air."
Rather than corridors with closed-off classes on each side, the learning centre has a wide central concourse which is decorated as if it was a road network with arrows, roundabouts and even a blue village pond design.
"The floor can be interactive, with its designs it's another invitation to explore," says Burnside.
Classrooms are open with no walls, although some partitions are available in rooms aimed at older children. So when a quieter learning environment is necessary it can be provided, but they can also be removed and a large space for play or a performance is created.
Burnside explains: "We wanted to get rid of closed-in walls and the feeling of the children being pushed from room to room. But the children do move throughout the day for different lessons or to mix and eat lunch.
"For the younger ones there is also a sleeping room where cushions and blankets will be provided."
Glass fronts on the side of the structure can be slid back to bring a seamlessness to the interior and the outside, which has a play area complete with jetting water features. A large red cantilever canopy shields the building from the sun so that its rays never reach the floorplate. Natural light penetrates all parts of the building via skylights.
"The main colours featured are the Ladybird ones of red, orange and yellow," says Kathryn Brown. "They are all very bright, crisp and clear. But elsewhere neutral tones allow the children to personalise their environment by putting up artwork. The clear walls will encourage them to want to display their creativity.
"The small houses which are next to the classrooms allow for storage and are lit naturally via skylights. They are also coloured distinctly and give the children reference points."
Burnside explains further: "You can actually overstimulate children by putting in a large amount of bright colours and crazy patterns and they don't take it all in."
Safety is an important factor in any school so the Ladybird centre has a lot of interior glass which allows teachers to look out beyond the classroom to see if any children are straying where they shouldn't go, or are looking lost.
Parents who walk their children up to the school have a place to congregate and stay for a coffee if they wish and a wide glass frontage allows them to look into the school itself.
Outlining the brief given to GAJ, Monica Valrani CEO of Ladybird Early Learning Centre, says: "We really did want something unique. We wanted lots of light, air and space so that the children and staff will really feel invigorated when they come inside."
The principal of the school is Helen Taylor-Shaw who was appointed after the design team had started work. Commenting on her first impression, she says: "When I came to the school first I was amazed at the use that had been made of spaces.
"And I was really pleased that it was all on one level as stairs are an important safety issue."
Burnside adds: "The clients came to us and said here's a site let's see what you can do with it. That's when we decided on a design reflecting those from Europe and North America and were able to totally get away from the idea of a learning centre for the very young which is really nothing more than a converted villa."