Google+ bakers and astronauts: Interview : Jess from The Architecture of Early Childhood

12 December 2011

Interview : Jess from The Architecture of Early Childhood

Today I'm sharing an interview that Jess, from The Architecture of Early Childhood, as kind enough to do with me!  I find her background and interest base fascinating, and she has a wonderful blog where she shares about the intersecting world of architecture, design, and early childhood education.  Please share your comments and questions here, and head over to Jess' blog for loads of inspirations and links that will entertain you for days!

You are working on your Masters in Architecture.  What inspired you to focus on early childhood environments for your thesis?

Well, I did a project last year re-designing/designing an addition to the Wellington Zoo, which included a circus and hotel - where I also designed a children’s camp experience (for schools, parties and holiday programmes). Here I began researching children’s play as I had also noticed a decline in children engaging in play in public spaces (my little brother being an example) and found a whole lot of research on this area and of its repercussions (for children’s health - mental, physical and social). I saw the zoo as being a perfect place for children to be once again immersed in nature - engaging with animals (and away from technology!) I also noted that there was a lack of research on the architecture for young children - and this led me to examining early learning (and care) environments.

What do you think is essential in an early childhood environment?

An environment that is both nurturing - using natural materials, soft colours, natural and varied lighting, rather than bright, artificial institutional lighting, space for children to be alone and to relax/contemplate and that is playful - engaging children in activity - this is where colour can come in (used sensitively), moving elements, ledges to jump off, steps to climb, ramps, paths, different textures...etc. Then the space should be designed to be flexible and to function well for the many activities for children to engage in freely uninhabited, as well as mediate sensitively between the indoors and outdoors (bringing nature in).

Is there anything that you prefer not to see in early childhood environments?

I see far too many contemporary examples that appear to be too institutional - with harsh lighting and artificial vinyl flooring. Children learn through doing and experiencing using all of their senses - and yet so often the environments appear cold and sterile.

Tell us about the architectural framework that you describe on your blog.

I’m currently designing a ‘framework’ which I hope will be useful in demonstrating the research I have conducted - so summarising the information I’ve stated above but in designed diagrams and drawings - showing how these ideas might be applied architecturally. 

There are a number of different early childhood approaches that put an emphasis on the environment.  Are you inspired by any one philosophy, by a few, or by many?

I’m inspired by them all - but differently! Reggio is inspiring for the way they have emphasised the environment as being integral to the curriculum from the beginning (where they see the environment as the “third teacher”). I like that they also often collaborate with designers and architects to “realise” their ambitions, and engage children in spatial experiments to better understand how they view their environments. I’ve also done a fair bit of research on Te Whariki - and appreciate its bi-cultural and holistic approach. I like the Scandinavian’s “forest schools” with their emphasis on outdoor learning, and in terms of architecture - I think the Japanese design really well utilising space and often think about children in their architecture (designing lofts, slides, ladders into their schemes).

I feel lucky that there seem to be more and more fantastic early childhood blogs everyday - ones that are about the whole child and more than just activities to do with children.  Do you consider yourself an education blogger, or an architecture blogger?

I guess I see myself as coming from a design background (I also am a graphic designer) - yet approaching the field of education with this view - as I’m not an expert in early childhood education, I've been careful to not be too opinionated - that is why I hope to learn and understand more through reading other early childhood blogs... like yours!

How has using a blog been an asset to your research?

I’ve noticed there is a gap between the knowledge that early childhood practitioners have about young children’s learning - through observing and working with children in their early learning spaces and between architects’ understanding for designing for young children. My mum used to manage a pre-school and expressed their exasperation working with an architect for his lack of understanding and experience designing for children. The blog has been a really great tool for engaging a sort of conversation - and for quickly archiving research as I find it. It has also kept me interested in the topic and a feeling of accomplishment.

Do you feel that you’ll continue blogging when your research is finished?

Yes! I very much hope to continue, I've been enjoying it immensely - and it’s so wonderful seeing the (increasing) views and getting comments and feedback - it makes me feel like I'm really making a difference (and I’m finding my writing is getting better too!)

What are your goals for when you finish your thesis?

I don’t know yet! I hope that I can continue to share my research/knowledge and expertise - perhaps Christchurch will need some new centres for it’s (post-earthquake) rebuild... I also hope to travel one day and work overseas for a wee while.

You’ve offered that people can contact you about your work and research.  What sorts of things do you hope to collaborate on?

Yes, I love that the internet allows for like-minded people to find each other - and share ideas/research. So I guess, rather than set out to find some answer to some particular question - I like the idea that the blog is open to any discussion or topic/issue... I hope when I start to post my designs that people might offer some feedback (a bit of critique).

What else would you like to share with Bakers and Astronauts readers?

Please do come and check out my blog - and feel free to add any comments that you may have :).

all images from The Architecture of Early Childhood; please visit there for the original sources.
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