Can toddlers appreciate good design? It’s a question we’ve asked before, and one we’re inclined to answer affirmatively. Thankfully, daycare centres are catching on — and so are designers. Case in point: In Brooklyn’s bustling Williamsburg neighbourhood, a new preschool by NYC-based firm BAAO is harnessing a thoughtful and innovative design approach to improve early childhood education.
Known for their striking interiors, BAAO counts City Kids Education Centre as one of its first institutional spaces — but it’s already their second daycare project. Aiming to promote hands-on learning, the brightly lit space is replete with child-scale amenities and thoughtful design touches.
But it’s the preschool’s spatial organization that sets it apart from most of its typological peers. Composed of six classrooms leading onto a bright, central interior “courtyard,” the 1,022-square-metre space is connected by double doors and interactive amenities — such as play sinks decorated with calming blue tiles — defying the conventionally linear organization of hallways and classrooms.
An open floor plan allows educators to quickly scan the room and supervise multiple children at once. Around the washroom area, for instance, half-height walls allow for privacy at the level of the children, while still maintaining monitoring capability for their caretakers. A variety of windows in the interior facade also bring natural light deep into surrounding spaces, facilitating visual connection — and supervision.
Along the courtyard, a flowing, curved wall bears acoustic felt panels, cut into various graphic shapes, adding some whimsy to the space while reducing ambient noise. And across the ceiling plane, pendants in varied shapes and colours are suspended at different heights; an elevated play on the mobile above a crib.
Hygienic considerations were important in such a busy environment. In response to the pandemic, BAAO’s design adapted to include the most up-to-date technology: electronic and ultraviolet light HVAC filters were installed, as well as touch-less security and check-in points. And last but not least, operable windows bring light and air to every classrooms.
The space will also house an after-school program for elementary age children. To this end, more specialized classrooms such as kitchens for hosting cooking classes, mini-labs for STEM and open studios for theatre and movement can be accessed off the upper hallway.
On the main floor, proper to the clientele, just about everything is low to the ground. Laminate wood plank flooring — echoed in the paneling around the interior and in the bleachers set up in the lounge— provides warmth without sacrificing durability. The smooth planes and pared-down materials are easy to clean and keep tidy, while much of the daycare’s furniture and storage is built in — locker cubbies flush with the walls allow children to put away their personal items themselves, without help.
It’s an environment that will prepare children for their future — through active learning, enrichment and beneficial habits, all of which are hallmarks of supportive, experiential design — whether they realize it or not.
With the City Kids Education Centre, BAAO studio elevates the traditional preschool into a child-led learning hub.