Jessica Hardwick Architecture is a small architectural practice based in Brisbane, specialising in residential, multi-residential and "commercial projects with heart". Jess brings 13 years of experience at several leading Brisbane practices to her own studio. She is also mum to Imogen.
Hi Jessica, could you answer a few questions about the Early Learning Centre you have designed for Bridgeman Downs? Firstly, what were the main considerations in designing the centre?
The Bridgeman Downs site provides a gorgeous bushland setting and the primary objective from day one has been to make the most of this. The bushland on the site is ecologically significant so in designing the centre we were constantly balancing the desire to remove as few trees as possible and the desire to create an immersive outdoor play experience for the children. By keeping the built form toward the front of the site, we have minimised tree removal, leaving the majority of the 10,000m2 site untouched as bushland.
How important is the physical environment in meeting the needs of children, staff and families?
In my experience, a well-considered physical environment is essential to providing the exceedingly high-quality service that Little Village provides. By considering in detail the education philosophy and practices of the centre, we can create spaces that inherently support staff and children. Another important aspect is creating that “Village” atmosphere across the site as a whole, by usual great colour, material and building form to subtly differentiate the Junior and Senior buildings, as well as each studio within the wings.
How did you connect the indoor and outdoor environments?
The expansive covered outdoor play areas at Little Village are the heart of the centre, bringing the bushland setting inside and ensuring that children can spend most of their day playing outside, regardless of the weather. The outdoor play areas also form a sort of “Village Piazza” in that they create a large communal space where children can engage across age groups. All families walk through the outdoor play areas each morning when they arrive, further reinforcing the importance of outdoor play to the ethos of the centre. We also introduced skylights and high-level clerestory glazing to bring sky views and natural ventilation into the studios.
Was the use of materials important in the design?
Absolutely! Materiality is always important to consider in a design process but particularly in an early learning context we need to be very conscious about specifying a range of materials that engage kids by providing a range of textures and tones, as well as providing very hard-wearing surfaces - kids are pretty hard on their surroundings! The palette that we have created for Little Village is all about connecting to the bushland setting, providing natural materials, colours and textures.
Can you share your thoughts on what makes good design?
To me good design is more than just a glossy image - it's about creating an atmosphere - social infrastructure that connects people to each other and to the place they're in. My goal on any project is always to draw out the most potent brief for the project - incorporating practical considerations, emotional aspirations, the client's personal style etc, so that we can make sure the construction budget is directed as much as possible toward the things that matter most to the client - the things that will make the biggest difference to their lived experience.
Your daughter Imogen has just commenced childcare, has this influenced your architectural design for the centre?
She has! It's been wonderful actually - I was pregnant and throughout the design and development approval process for this project so designing the centre with my own values and concerns in mind was really lovely. A key priority for me was "designing a place where I would feel great about dropping my child each day". Luckily the development assessment period overlapped nicely with my maternity leave and when we commenced the detailed design of the centre, I had a whole new perspective on parenthood, life as a working parent, and a 24/7 learning opportunity about understanding the experience of babies and children.
What is important for you and your family in an early learning environment?
Next to the obvious "must-haves" of safety and security, it would have to be a strong connection to the outdoors and opportunities to be in nature. I know from my experience that Imogen is so naturally engaged in her surroundings when she's outside - there's just an endless opportunity for exploration and rich experience in nature. I so look forward to the opening of the centre so that I can finally see her playing in these beautiful spaces.