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Azure January February 2023 issue cover

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Wonderforest Nature Preschool — the name says it all. Around the corner from the Barclays Center, a storefront in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights has been transformed into a verdant urban oasis for (very) young New Yorkers. Designed by local office Palette Architecture, the 330-square-metre facility translates the school’s distinct nature-based curriculum into an engaging environment, drawing inspiration from nearby Prospect Park to embed a sylvan landscape within a bustling urban context.

The Wonderforest Nature Preschool from the street at dusk

Rooted in active play and natural immersion, the Wonderforest program emphasizes inquiry-based, child-led learning that combines open exploration with more structured classes. Weather permitting, children — who are between the ages of two and four — spend time outdoors each day, including walks to neighbourhood green spaces and weekly visits to Prospect Park. And to support the school’s mission, the interior is conceived as an extension of the naturalist philosophy, incorporating five classrooms and a trio of spaces — dubbed The Forest, The Greenhouse and The Wetland — that playfully bring the outdoors in.

Children climp across wooden play elements, placed on top of artificial grass

“Nature education at an early age is so important, particularly at this moment in time when our youngest generations are destined to contend with rising environmental challenges,” says Peter Miller, one of three founding partners at Palette Architecture. “As a complement to the school’s innovative program centred around outdoor excursions to nearby Prospect Park, we have endeavoured to take the ethos of that style of education and to bring it indoors.”

A view of the "greenhouse" hallway at Wonderforest Nature Preschool

Framing the storefront’s tall windows, the “greenhouse” environment elevates a narrow, curving hallway into a visual focal point. And while the varied plantings introduce a tangible – and tactile — connection to nature for passing children, the careful array of greenery deftly preserves privacy while welcoming in ample natural light, transforming a liminal space into a showpiece.

A view of the "forest" from the top of the rolling landscape, with two children playing inside

Likewise bathed in natural light, the “forest” is an open playscape whose varied topography of artificial grass mimics rolling hills. Animated by recycled wood play elements, the forest’s “trees” are the angular wooden “branches” that fan out from the broad, cushioned pillars, with LED pendants integrated within. The whimsical space is an indoor haven — one that distills the Wonderforest Nature Preschool philosophy into a room.

A trio of children at the water table in the mud room

Finally, the “wetland” features a water table and “mud kitchen,” bringing the messy — yet enriching — tactility of puddles into an educational environment. Complementing the three experiential spaces, the school’s classrooms, bathrooms and administrative spaces carry through the same aesthetic language into more traditional environments. Wood tones, soft curves and natural light create continuity throughout, bringing together an eclectic variety of environments into a cohesive whole.

A view of the "forest" landscape from below
A Preschool Finds Natural Inspiration in a Brooklyn Storefront

From trees and grass to puddles, New York’s Palette Architecture imbues the spirit of a park into the Wonderforest Nature Preschool.

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