Arcadia – encourages play and nurtures creativity

Richard Kington shares the innovative features of a new nursery facility at the University of Edinburgh

For many years the University of Edinburgh operated two children’s nurseries for the benefit of staff, students and the local community. Those facilities worked well in the past but in today’s childcare environment, increasingly lacked flexibility and opportunities for children, in an environment that made day to day running difficult and costly.

When a site became available at the University’s Kings Building Campus the opportunity was taken to develop a new Nursery that was innovative in design, sustainable and offered substantially increased opportunities for the children. Arcadia has been designed around the concept of ‘free-play’ helping children’s confidence, independence and creativity and with barely a third of the space actually indoors.

Arcadia opened in August 2014 and offers space for 113 children in three age group playrooms: Harmony, Peace and Serenity. Three ‘Pavilions’ sit within a single storey building with large roof lights offering views to the tree canopy above and substantial glazing and doors to the outside play spaces. Peace and Serenity have mezzanines to add a further dimension to the indoor environment. Each of the playrooms opens directly onto a covered terrace to allow outdoor space for children regardless of the weather and this forms part of the first ‘garden’ where free play is encouraged. Apart from walkways, bridge, slides, grass steps and soft play areas, mini allotments allow children to grow plants and vegetables. Beyond is a second area with Rope Bridge, tree climbing and other more challenging opportunities. Finally is the ‘meadow’ for free play, picnics and activities within the willow arbour.

Wet play areas link internally with each playroom, used by single age groups or providing opportunities for children to come together. They aid transitioning between age groups and facilitate contact with children who have siblings in another room.

The sustainable furniture and toys in the playrooms come from Community Playthings who produce high quality wooden toys and equipment from their base in Sussex.

The dining area has an open kitchen where meals are prepared on site to carefully defined nutritional principles. The front of the kitchen has a child’s food preparation and cooking area to encourage the children to become more involved in the preparation and cooking of food.

Technology has been used where appropriate. ipads are used across the nursery to record children’s progress and interactive whiteboards are used to enhance learning in the 3 to 5 years room.

Substantial amounts of glazing both inside and outside offer a high degree of visibility throughout Arcadia to ensure that children feel integrated with each other and the outside world. Managers can monitor some activities less intrusively and artificial light is used as little as possible.

The building itself is a Cross-laminated timber structure providing a warm, tactile interior whilst also using a natural, sustainable product. Outside the timber walls and zinc based roof gives Arcadia a distinctive presence, which sits well in the suburban setting.

Arcadia has already won a number of awards including RIBA award for Scotland 2015, RIAS Award 2015, Zero Waste Scotland’s resource Efficiency Award 2015 and Wood for Good/Forestry Commission Scotland Award for Best Use of Timber 2015.

And finally – the downside? Having to turn away so many parents because demand has been so great!


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