Project description via v2com*
Palette Architecture, a firm creating built environments to enhance the daily experiences of contemporary life, is proud to introduce Wonderforest, a nature-focused preschool in the Prospect Heights district of Brooklyn, New York. Augmenting the nature-based learning programs of Brooklyn Nature Days, providing outdoor forest education for children aged 2 to 4 years old, Wonderforest Nature Preschool is the first indoor space of its kind, and a unique new concept that raises the bar on nature education.
“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 centered around outdoor excursions to nearby Prospect Park, we have endeavored to take the ethos of that style of education and to bring it indoors.”
As the first facility of its kind, Wonderforest presented Palette Architecture with a series of challenges associated with bringing nature into the built environment of an urban storefront. The firm’s approach began with a focus on how to fit the principles of a forest school into the physical constraints of a built environment. Embracing a strategy of abstracted nature, they embarked on a quest to replicate the palette and textures of nature through simplified biophilic forms that would enable children to learn through interactions with water, trees, dirt, and the collective landscape.
“We wanted to design the primary play areas to provide the same range of experiences found in the park outings,” explains Miller. “We endeavored to ensure that the facility would provide multiple and varied opportunities for play and learning through open-ended environments.”
Layering unique experiences
Focusing on the attributes of the storefront façade, Palette seized opportunities to incorporate natural light, establish visual connections, and create varying levels of privacy. A welcome area located along the storefront window, flanked by open-play spaces, leverages natural light to project an inviting atmosphere for passersby. The concept was centered on the process of layering spaces to create pockets of both activity and privacy, resulting in a series of sectional changes that foster exploration, and a private layer containing classrooms and support spaces. To brighten interior spaces not privy to natural light, Palette installed acoustic interior windows that also serve to provide views from the corridor where staff can oversee activities without distracting children from their experiences.
“A lot of thought went into the concept of journeying along a wandering path of wonderment infused with abstract forms of nature,” explains Miller. “The path is lined with levels of free play and exploration, as well as open spaces where children can share their adventures in a collaborative environment.”
A meandering path of discovery and adventure
Separating the public and private layers of Wonderforest, a meandering path serves as a flowing connection between distinct environments including The Forest, The Greenhouse, and The Wetlands. Extending inward from the welcome area, the path embarks on a journey inspired by natural principles and the flow of water as it weaves its way along the edges of classrooms and on to the perimeter of The Forest.
The Forest is an expansive, open play area that includes swings set against a backdrop marked by a rolling green hillside of artificial grass and abstracted tree forms. Recycled materials and sustainably-harvested lumber lay the foundations of Wonderforest’s sustainable environment, where changes in topography and materiality, under the glow of suspended LED lighting, foster a sense of wonderment and adventure.
Further along the meandering path, cove lighting swoops upward in an undulating ceiling above as the journey transitions toward The Greenhouse, a narrow section defined by tall windows and a dense layer of vegetation. A variety of plant species provide educational experiences for children, who engage in their delicate care and growth along the path as it bends and descends around The Wetland.
In contrast to the more formal demeanor of the other zones, The Wetland is a durable, wet space that encourages children to immerse themselves in tactile play and sensory explorations centered on buoyancy, dynamics, and creativity. A child-sized water table and mud kitchen contribute to playfully messy adventures mimicking the essence of park pond experiences.
“We are particularly proud of Wonderforest’s tangible benefits for future generations, and for its contribution to advancing new concepts in the world of design that embrace visions of a better world,” concludes Peter Miller. “Much work has been done to find ways to seamlessly blend the built environment into natural settings, but this project succeeds in reversing that flow by drawing nature into an urban environment.”