The Early Learning Village, which opened its doors to young pupils in September 2017, represents an extraordinary milestone in the delivery of international pre-school education. This remarkable, ground-breaking school was designed by leading architectural studio Bogle Architects for the global schools operator Cognita. The Early Learning Village accommodates two of Cognita’s schools in Singapore: The Stamford American International School and The Australian International School.
The initial objectives of the scheme came about from a change in the predicted ‘age group’ requirement for the school. What had initially been understood to be a need for a junior school in 2012, the changing profile of the market by 2014 required over 2,000 early years aged children. To add complexity to the project, the Client, (Cognita Asia ) required the facility to be occupied by two schools, namely The Australian International School and the Stamford American International School.
From the outset the Client also requested that this facility should be a model for future schools of this nature, in that it would provide facilities rarely seen in pre-school buildings: a swimming pool, a flexible multi-purpose hall, specialist subject classes and most importantly an abundance of external play space. The brief was to ensure that every classroom had its own dedicated external play areas which would differ in use dependant on the age of the children.
The facility also had to work within the Singaporean land capacity criteria and this had to be balanced against the schools’ user requirements, complex drop off and pick up solutions, vertical transportation of children within the eight storey building, fire safety and the need for high level external play space. The main challenges that were laid down by the Client’s brief were numerous. Firstly, how to make a very large volume feel small and intimate for the ultimate users ( ie. small children ), secondly, how to manoeuvre these children around a very large facility including maintaining their safety, and finally how to make it playful and fun but also fit for flexible adaptation should the market conditions change in the future.
The kind of project we as designers relish, allowing for exploration of new ideas leading to ground- breaking, innovative design.
From the outset the school adopted the philosophy of Reggio Emilia principles. This informed the thinking behind the architecture and the overall design offering a free hand to explore the optimum solutions for Early Years development. How children interact with adults and their peers is a key belief and value of the Reggio Emilia practice.
There was no rule book for designing a project of this typology and scale so we had to go back to first principles. We took the analogy of the ‘nursery at the end of the street’ as the initial building block – typically four classrooms organised around a central space with external play space of circa 100 children. Through a process of modelling we analysed how we could arrange these ‘building blocks’ in a suitable fashion to create a wonderful environment for the children. Our thinking led us to stack the blocks vertically in a playful manner and, by overlapping them, we could provide rigorously practical weather protection and yet philosophically give the children a playful environment.
The principles of stacking the blocks, or clusters, also created an interesting and complex aesthetic to the building which was endorsed by the Early Years specialist who had strong beliefs that complexity is beneficial to children’s development. The other driver that informed the architecture is the abundant use of green space and greenery. This was an overarching value that we as designers encouraged the Client to pursue and once again had full endorsement from our other advisor – a professor of Early Years architectural and behavioural studies.
The disparate blocks however provide an interesting and complex massing. We were very conscious of the initial impression of the facility that a small child would have on their first trip into the education arena. As mentioned earlier, one of the challenges was to make a very large building feel small. Internally this is dealt with by the smaller scale of the clusters while externally this was tackled by the introduction of a number of projecting canopies, providing shelter but also using the art of ‘perspective’ to reduce the scale of the facility.
‘’ The Early Learning Village is a one of a kind place for young children. Nowhere I have worked in has paid such attention to the needs of the children who will use the space. Space, Light and Time - these are the gifts to the teachers and children of the Early Learning Village. It is a living breathing part of what happens every day. From the living walls coming to life with flowers and native bees to the shared spaces that children are discovering around every corner, there is something that is exciting and something that creates a sense of wonder. Parents and children do not want to go home. The ELV’s design and intent is all about community and relationships a place where lasting friendships for both children and adults are built.’’
Adam Patterson, Head of Early Years, Australian International School.
“We know that the highest quality experience, at the earliest stages of learning, will reap benefits at every step of a child’s subsequent educational journey – and beyond. An essential aspect of that experience is the educational environment itself. The Early Learning Village is an unparalleled project reflecting Cognita’s conviction in Early Years education as the all-important foundation for an individual’s success in life. It is both innovative and inspiring – a breathtaking design that is at all times centred on the child and the exploration and discovery they need to flourish.”
Chris Jansen, Cognita CEO