In considering a template for Early Years provision for local authorities, two immediate typologies are identified, both offering a model for learning, and at polar opposites from the perspective of a built solution. Utilising a ‘metric led’ approach will ultimately derive a functional built form that offers the maximum permissible internal floor area whilst aligning with the project cost parameters. The benefit of this approach is that a building arrangement is generated that aligns with the preconceived ideology of how an authority controlled educational facility should function. Aspects such as an entrance lobby, waiting area, administration suites, meeting rooms and circulation areas, coupled with security zones, plant spaces, server rooms and facilities management are arranged around the infant playrooms, and provide a facility that local authorities are adept at managing and offer parents the surety that their child is protected. This methodology should not be dismissed, as there are numerous examples that offer innovation in their design and delivery. Holmes Miller has developed a solution that brings all the benefits of off-site manufacture, to provide Councils with a flexible solution that can be expanded to suit anticipated pupil rolls, and delivered efficiently, whilst aligning with expected cost metrics. This option can be customised to suit context, with a range of cladding solutions possible, and the large volume playrooms can be easily defined to marry with an early year’s curriculum.
The conflict in this ‘metric led’ approach however, is that a building is formed that creates on average, 2.2 square metres of ancillary and support accommodation, for every genuine square metre of play space. Coupled with this, continual pressure on project budgets can often lead to resultant playspaces resembling functional primary school classrooms, efficient in design and the delivery of a lecture based curriculum but institutional in aesthetic, and ineffective in catering for the wide ranging developmental needs of preschool children.
The alternative approach is to utilise the area metrics to set the upper limit on project value, and thereafter, develop an ‘experience based’ accommodation schedule, that considers the type of spaces that are needed to support a pre-school curriculum. This review would assess whether these spaces need to be indoors, in sheltered enclosure or outdoors, along with key adjacencies, with a view to generating a creative landscape for pupils to inhabit and explore. It also ensures that children remain active throughout the nursery day, with activities occurring in different zones that they can move freely between. From a local authority perspective, this Early Years model can become a key step in adopting the principals of the outdoor and woodland nurseries, where children are encouraged outdoors as often as possible, with the familiarity that stems from a built facility, and the associated security that it brings. In considering a notional 100 place early years centre, the ‘metric led’ approach would deliver a facility of 580m², of which approximately 240m² would be viable teaching + playspace. The alternative approach, through rationalising the true requirement for indoor space, could offer a facility of 1030m², with 240m² of registerable indoor playspace, along with a further 550m² sheltered, multi-level activity space that can be used throughout the year.
This design approach would not only provide local authorities with outstanding value for money, but would offer pre-school children an engaging and dynamic early years setting, within which they can grow and develop. Fully embracing the ‘Space to Grow’ guidance, this design response would enrich the Early Years curriculum through the following: