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Sensation Paths to Sensation Architecture

Playscapes have posted these "sensation paths" or "barefoot parks" that are coming out of Europe, where one's "unshod foot" may experience a variety of elements and textures.

A fantastic idea which may be applied to early childhood environments.

Below from Barfuss Park are a number of ideas for building your own sensation path, including balancing beams, stone plates, knotted ropes hung from trees, mulch/bark, tree stumps, board walks, loose materials (like stones or sand), wading through water, scented gardens, mud pools and spaces for reflection or rest (e.g. a hammock or bench seat).

Literally, these can be incorporated into the early childhood setting.

Less literally, the notion of designing for the senses is not a new idea. Margaret McMillan heralded fresh air, sunlight and scented gardens to improve the health of the child. Maria Montessori and John Dewey advocated the "do it yourself" attitude with tasks and activities for the child's learning. Whereas Rudolf Steiner used architectural form, textures, shadow and light to create space that inspired the child's imagination.

It is prudent however to remember and reflect on how architecture responds to the child's many and varied senses.

Boardwalks (Movement/Motor)

From left: The Flying Carpet project by Area Architecture, Black Locust Wooden bench in Canal Park, Washington, and Kindergarten Guntramsdorf, by GOYA.

Balance, acceleration and kinesthetic (awareness and perception of one's body) sense is important for a child's development. Thus architecture must allow children to "test" their physical capabilities and motor movements (run, skip, jump, slide etc) so that they may become confident individuals.

Floor to Wall Textures (Touch)

From left: Casal de la Joventut de Novelda by Crystalzoo, Nursery School by Rocamora Arquitectura and Sant Martí Primary and Infant School by SUMO Arquitectes + Yolanda Olmo.

Playful, textured and varied surfaces - inviting one to 'touch' may stretch across the floors and walls. Thus blurring the boundaries and infusing a sense of wonder or excitement into the architecture.

Natural Materials (Nature Experience)

From left: New Shoots Children's Centre by Collingridge and SmithHeidelberg kindergarten by Behnisch Architekten and The Children’s School by Maryanne Thompson Architects. 

Wood, grass, stones, rocks, sand, shrubs, water - all are natural elements offering a variety of sensorial experiences. From moving, rearranging, collecting and being able to feel texture and a sense of warmth or coldness.

Visual (Colour and Reflection)

From left: Mirror House by MLRP and Nursery School in Berriozar by Javier Larraz + Iñigo Beguiristain + Iñaki Bergera.

Reflective or colourfully painted features add to the child's visual experience, arousing movement and giving space a unique identity.

Activities (Co-ordination and Creativity)

From left: Kidtopia in Amsterdam by DUS ArchitectsWinnetka Public School Nursery by ArchitectureIsFun and Kita Dragon by Baukind.

Steps, slides, climbing elements and space for creative expression continues the kinesthetic sense of hand-eye co-ordination and sense of self awareness.

Rest (Peace and Quiet)

From left: Ying Yang Public Library by Evgeny Markachev + Julia KozlovaMelbourne Central Retreat by Clare Cousins Architecture, Architects School in Ljubljana by Svet Vmes and Skanderborggade Day Care Centre by Dorte Mandrup.

Important also to play, is to design for down-time - rest and contemplation. This can be through the use of seating, creating niches or "hidey-holes", through using calm colours and soft warm textures.

Via Playscapes.


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