Designing the 21st century school

Ladybird Early Learning Centre

A peek into the 21st century classroom reveals just how design in education has evolved over the last few years. Traditional desks, chairs, and chalkboards have been rejected in favour of more interactive, open and sustainable spaces, a sign of how education is shifting and design with it.

Raina Viegas, Senior Associate at GAJ, has had a front-row seat to the evolution of design in education. She sheds light on how design in education has evolved and puts the spotlight on the Ladybird Early Learning Centre.

The evolution of education
Having worked on educational projects for close to a decade, Viegas has keenly observed how the design of schools has evolved. “Educational buildings are evolving from traditional classroom spaces to highly interactive spaces. Today’s flexible learning spaces promote innovative learning environments, where student-centred learning and collaborative teaching practices are key. Each educational institution that we design is unique and is constructed as a collaboration between the designer, the client and the academics,” says Viegas.

“From typical classrooms, corridors, and desks, we’re now seeing a complete shift towards shared learning spaces and specialist areas that include music departments, science and technology departments, and robotics labs. The way we’re designing schools reflects just how education has changed over the last few years,” she adds.

Having worked on the design development and execution of several schools in the region, Viegas lists GEMS international school, GEMS Metropole, Ladybird Early Learning Centre and The Arcadia Schools as her most noteworthy projects.

Ladybird Early Learning Centre
In 2016, Viegas worked on the Ladybird Early Learning Centre in Dubai’s Jumeirah Village Circle. The nursery is a prime example of how learning centres have evolved and places emphasis on sustainability and open and flexible space.  “The Ladybird Early Learning Centre was particularly special as it is the first early learning centre in the Middle East and the fourth in the world outside of the USA to be LEED School certified. It was important and appropriate for us to model sustainability in building design and operation in line with the client’s aspirations,” she says.

Flexible and interactive space
Despite the 2000 sqm size of the learning centre, architects and designers went to work to try and maximise space. “For example, within the nursery there is a step leading up to an open space area. We’ve ensured that this area can be converted into a drama area or a library for the children; the space is constantly changing based on the requirements of the school,” she says. “These are the kinds of spaces we were aiming for; open spaces where the children could interact.”

The team also created a small track within the interior of the school to appeal to the children. The track – designed to look like a road – is equipped with miniature parking bays and roundabouts to further emphasise interactive spaces.

Sustainability
The learning centre was designed to make use of natural light and natural air, so the school could minimise the use of electricity during the day, while windows allow for ample ventilation preventing the school from using ACs during the cooler months in Dubai.
In addition, the flooring has been used from recycled rubber, while timber used throughout the school has been certified (timber that has been responsibly sourced and managed by strict rules and regulations).
“While creating a nursery that adheres strictly to environmental rules can be expensive, the client wanted to build his vision of sustainable school that meets LEED regulations,” said Viegas.

Challenges
Viegas admits that with any project there are challenges to overcome and projects which involve children requires attention to detail, constant tweaking, adhering strictly to authoritarian requirements, and the ability to find long-term solutions.

For the Ladybird Early Learning Centre, tweaking and redesigning elements was a necessity. “It was a challenge to ensure that all details and quality of the project was executed on site. We had to create a prototype of the hut (that housed the children’s bathroom facilities) in the joinery warehouse and there were several redesigns until finally we settled on something we were all happy with.”

Another challenge for Viegas was designing a soundproof facility that was also an open space. “One of the main requirements from the client was to have a soundproof facility and our design looked at incorporating open space, naturally this concept was met with some apprehension from the client, but we were able to show them that using open spaces did not necessarily mean a lack of a soundproof facility,” she said.

To fulfil the objective, the team used acoustically well-designed materials like ceiling and flooring materials that absorbed the noise and succeeded in meeting a core aim of the learning centre.

Published in full in the Cityscape Global official newspaper.