Community and Nature / Lil’ville in the Woods child care centre

 location: mosta, malta

 year: 2019 – 2020

A child care centre is one of the first environments that children are exposed to outside of their family bubble, and wherein one may slowly start to instill within them a sense of belonging away from home and family, within the context of a safe community composed of other children and carers. According to Loris Malaguzzi (The Hundred Languages of Children), children have three teachers – the parent, the school teacher and the environment. The latter should be flexible and responsive to the needs of instructors and children alike to create the setting, and appropriate conditions, for being able to learn together. Space therefore plays a crucial role in becoming another ‘teacher’, inspiring children to explore and communicate and encouraging collaboration, sharing and friendship – important social skills that they will carry with them forever.

The centre is also themed around a woodland setting, in order to introduce the important element of nature from a very early stage of their lives. This theme is expressed across different areas. Central to the design concept has been the acknowledgement that children should be in contact with nature’s aesthetics and textures on a daily basis, as part of their learning process of the world. A carefully studied palette of colours and textures, intended to motivate and support the children, complements soft, easy to maintain and non-slip surfaces that ensure safety and hygiene. The child care centre also features interactive and durable furniture that have been custom designed and detailed by the office’s design team. The centre is furthermore a technology-free environment, opting to instead stimulate children through real-life elements and natural references.

The site previously contained a long and narrow street-level garage and store. Instead of seeing the site’s configuration as a constraint, the site’s depth was exploited in order to express the idea of a journey and experience, through a series of themed and animated spaces. The designed layout allows for the children’s uninterrupted movement within the space and promotes their uninfluenced decision-making to find their own place within the protected environment of the child care centre. The original garage was characterised by an impressive volume, with a height of around 4.5 metres. This volume was subsequently articulated so as to create a series of progressive spaces, proportional to childrens’ height and size. These spaces take the form of colourful lightweight customised houses, with natural timber frames and trims in order to provide a richness of materiality that may be interacted with. A new soffit design allows for the adjustment of the internal height, following the rhythm of the new forms below it for visual continuity between the two planes. At the back of the site, the entire extent of the facade was opened up and glazed so as to allow for the maximum possible natural light to enter the main indoor activity space wherein most of the time is spent. The rear facade was set back so as to increase the outdoor play area, which as a result is partly covered that allows for its usage even in unfavourable weather conditions. The glazed facade provides a transparent and permeable interface that allows for the constant interaction of indoor and outdoor space. 

In order to ensure optimal levels of light and ventilation, the soffits are detached from the new volumes, thus providing natural ventilation throughout the spaces and the ability for natural light to permeate through. The customised houses are furthermore roofless, also to allow for the different areas to be well ventilated. In turn, the innermost area houses the centrally located service core, with the access for all staff and children’s WCs and ancillary service spaces, which could afford to have a greater reliance on artificial lighting. The central part of the centre is intentionally lowered, both to ensure that WCs are not unnecessarily high (providing better thermal control, thus thermal comfort, for the children) and so as to increase the impact of emerging out into the back activity space, guided by an interactive undulating natural timber screen.

Through a carefully studied and thought-out design concept, these design decisions have strived to create an environment that stimulates children’s imagination and promotes their independence in the exploration and learning processes throughout these critical initial years of their lives.

This project won the Interior Architecture Award For Commercial Or Public Buildings at the prestigious MASP Awards 2020.

photos by Ramon Portelli

Malta Architecture and Spatial Planning Awards