1. In your opinion, what has been the biggest shift in preschool design and how do you think this will continue to evolve in the coming years?
Preschool design is becoming more holistic with a greater emphasis of the balance between security and stimulation. A Preschool center is a second home for many children and the importance of the space impacting learning is becoming a core focus. Considering air and light quality; where walls, windows and doors go; open spaces and ability for children to navigate mean that Educators must look beyond the boundaries of their profession to include others in the design to be able to speak to families and children choosing an appropriate center for for their child. I think trends around sustainability, green awareness, safety, more curriculum and approach led designs will all be factors in the ways preschool design evolves.
2. With growing demand in pre-school spaces and not enough space to build large school, what would you say are the top 3 considerations when designing quality school buildings for demand?
I think it is key to speak to the needs of the consumer and three considerations for this are:
- FOCUS on your USP: What is the learning outcome expected and how can we specifically provide this? This means a tech focused preschool will ensure appropriate provisions are made that allow for this thereby being specifically accountable for the learning outcome. Similar in a green school where a planting zone or forest of hills is created. Speciality is such a great way to ensure that your space impacts learning. At Blossom, this is a focus where each site has consistencies with others but also has a unique selling point – an indoor air conditioned sports hall for tennis and basketball lessons at one; a shallow pool in another; mirrored dance studios; planting gardens; tech stations and interactive boards with movable furniture in another etc.
- Multipurpose and sharable spaces are key. Gone are the days of designated lunch rooms, auditoriums, sleep areas. Looking at the needs of the children and assigning areas which can be used for a variety of activities on the daily schedule is a must. Engaging teachers and educators who use the spaces is something that should be done more often.
- Quality for me means a safe environment. Too often cost cutting, toxic and inappropriate materials are used. For example, when play equipment is placed are fall heights and cushioned floors considered? Stairs, windows, emergency exits and access for emergency situations should be part of the design plan. Which way do gates open? Is there CCTV? What are the blind spots? What about use of fans or design to cool or heat the areas naturally. These are key to a sustainable build. It is a plus if you can allow the space to speak to the users so labelling and visual demarcations that invite and inspire are great and help to share why things are done the way they are thereby speaking to the user and further growing the mindshift.
- Sustainability of facilities is a growing concern in the region, how can this be incorporated in facility design that caters for growing learner numbers?
A sustainable center benefits from greater numbers of students as the facility is multipurpose and costs can be borne by a wider user base. An ideal approach is a variety of zoned shared facilities. For example at a school with a great fitness facility – family or community memberships can be done to use them in non peak times. An olympic size pool that was once built for students only is now a community resource and an additional revenue stream and marketing opportunity. Nurseries and schools should be built adjacent to parks and community planting zones so that children can learn by doing in facilities that are built and used by a variety of people. The actual design should also be seen not simply as a space to educate, but an area to inspire. At Blossom Early Learning Center which is situated adjacent to a number of universities we built a bottle wall which was made entirely of plastic water bottles that is a talking piece for the community. Students and families see this as a practical approach to build and a community art piece that reminds them to re-purpose and rethink materials, use and the built space we use. Our bottle wall is multipurpose in that it showcases new design, is cost effective, works as an inspiring role model for others and is effective. Here are some images: http://www.smugmug.com/gallery/n-bdG6h/i-fFK37c3/A
3.What design thinking principals can be applied when designing and building education facilities that are cost efficient, as well as inspiring for both learners and teachers?
Applying principles of recycling and repurposing are key. Can old walls be used again as paint canvases? Can packing materials be remodelled for a display board? Can the discarded become functional again? These are key ways to approach design. Combine this with considerations on the heritage of your flooring, lighting, walls, paint and its life cycle. Making choices that align with LEED and other international used formats can be cost effective especially when you approach the build from a Triple PPP approach. Do not expect the architect or engineer to tell you what should be done – be active and push the boundaries. Premising the impacts on People, Planet and Prosperity collectively mean that your perspective changes. We have found that people choose Blossom because our Space Impacts Learning and that our build helps to provide positive Knowledge Destinies for our children which is a key part of the offering. Designing with multiple factors and impacts in mind means that learners and educators are a part of the build that they live in, giving them ownership and identity in the process. And it is this process that can surely brings game changing results.
Zahra Hamirani, is the Founder of The Blossom Nursery / Blossom Education which has 5 award winning nurseries and ELC’s in Dubai and BEE Academy – a CACHE accredited Teacher Training organisation. She has 10+ years of experience as an educator and in education leadership.