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Little Wings converts an existing NZ state home into a delightful and warm centre for young impressionable learners

A collaboration between Early Education Centre Owner Tina Liu and Architects Emma Morris (of Emma Morris Architecture) and Katrina Keshaw (of Keshaw McArthur) sees 'Little Wings' offering a home-like nest hidden in the bustling heart of Ellerslie in Auckland, New Zealand.

The architects and centre-owner Tina Liu have worked to transform an existing 1930's state house into a centre that retains the intimate, domestic scale of 'home' - a concept that is important to Little Wings' philosophy in developing and retaining close relationships between teachers, whānau and children.

From Tina, "Parents who visit us the first time always compliment on the lovely homely feeling of the Centre. The Centre has also been described as a comfortable and unique place that encourages the building of trusting relationships between children, whānau and teaching team.

We have had positive feedback from parents and families who have been with us for a while, that their children settle quickly because of the cozy and relaxing environment. They feel they are dropping off their children from their home to a bigger home!"

Another key objective for the centre was to enhance the connection between children and the outdoor environment, particularly a large scheduled pohutukawa. The children at Little Wings are empowered to play, learn and make sense of how the world works around them through active interactions with the natural environment.

The teaching philosophy of the centre is a "freedom within structure" learning environment, where children are encouraged to construct knowledge through play and exploration. The values are reflected in the centres' carefully designed layout: a central plywood pod contains the kitchen and bathroom, enabling the play areas around the perimeter of the pod to open to natural light and the outdoors. Children can move freely around the dynamic sequence of play areas, where they can discover a creative activity to engage with. Little "nooks and crannies" such as the loft, the stage and hobbit hole create intimate settings for imaginative and make-believe play.

A recipient of a Resene Colour Award (2018) - the centres' design adopts a calm and sophisticated colour palette (rather than the child-like bright colours we often see adults employ when designing for children). This enhances the home-like atmosphere and creates a subtle and calm background that directs the children towards the activities rather than distract from them. Instead, the colours of the books, games and toys are accented in an enticing manner.

Each of the three rooms in the central pod were allocated a paint colour on the ceilings and walls, which glow softly during the day in complementary hues. The idea being of a crafted cabinet of curiosities or a toy box for children, so that they may always feel like they are stepping into a world of play.

A stencilled mural with native bird artwork designed by Pippa Fay enlivens the external wall of the artroom.

Little Wings show that with good teachers and well-designed spaces - inside and out, you can create an environment that not only feels good to be in but creates a sense of belonging - which is so important for young learners. Let's hope others follow in Tina, Emma and Katrina's footsteps in creating places that passionately cater to the early experiences of children.

Photography by Sam Hartnett.


Lady Gowrie is a not-for-profit community-based organisation providing over 30 ECE (Early Childhood Education) centres across Tasmania, Australia. Their latest exemplary centre showcases their integrated and "through the looking glass" model, offering facilities for not only children's' learning and care, but family support services and staff training, becoming an early learning community "hub".

The new 2320sqm state-of-the-art facility is the result of intensive collaboration and workshops between the architects Cumulus Studio and the Lady Gowrie Tasmania team, with the architects even helping to procure the site. The chosen brownfield site cleverly adapts existing industrial warehouse buildings that used to house a mechanics workshop. The most transformative aspect is the large timber-clad structure that is playfully arranged like "jenga" or play cubes over the existing structure, forming a new entry and staff rooms.

Different levels connect effortlessly from the entry reception leading to the central sheltered courtyard with its transparent roof. Form here you can see through to the early education rooms/play areas (which are divided into 0-3 years, 3+ years, and a multi-use/aged room).

The integrated model of childcare, education and community is reflected in the architectures flexible indoor and outdoor spaces, and in the blurring of boundaries - to create a changing and diverse play terrain. Various functions and breakout spaces are collected around the vertical circulation, encouraging informal encounters and opportunities for learning (for both children, caregivers and parents).

Read down to hear from the architects Cumulus Studio....


Q & A with Cumulus Studio

What do you see as the most challenging part of designing for early learning centres? 

For us, the biggest challenge in undertaking this project was incorporating the required amount of external play space on a restricted, urban site. Working with a former car garage we were forced to introduce a number of creative solutions to equip the building with a series of safe, interactive outdoor play spaces.

Balancing the competing needs of the educator and child was also challenging at certain stages of the design. To promote this balance we focused on promoting interaction and collaboration between the educator and the child, rather than supervision from a distance.

Any tips or advice or learnings that you can pass onto future educators or architects who will be endeavouring to undertake this journey in the future? 

Now two years on from the project’s completion we have a clear understanding of what worked well and what we might change in the future.

In terms of the design concept, I would say it’s important to have fun, be playful and not be afraid of colour. The sensory engagement of the child was a paramount consideration in our design and I think this played a major role in the project’s success.

Child safety and specific educator supervision requirements should also never be underestimated by any designer working with early learning facilities.

Can we expect any more centres in the Cumulus Studio pipeline?

We’re really interested in expanding our portfolio within the education sector. Right now, we are assessing inner city Hobart sites for another project with Lady GowrieTasmania and hope to have more details to reveal soon.











A small yet boldly inviting centre in Japan that uses an existing building

Japanese (and early childhood specialist) architects HIBINOSEKKEI and Youji no Shiro are at it again with the MK-S Nursery - a small (160sqm) centre that inhabits an existing residence and disused 2-storey shop.

Restoring the existing fabric of the building with new ply internal linings and a perforated "starry" metal screen with house and square shaped windows the result is a tidy and yet fun new building for the community's young children.

The low-grade (so cheap) plywood lining walls are thickly framed - allowing deep silled windows to sit in/on and for dividing walls to contain functional storage.

Note the deep sills in which kids can climb up onto and look out at the street. The "hidden" door clad in the same ply and made flush is a clever detail also.

The palette is simple - with ply lining, some painted with shades of blue, engineered timber flooring and plasterboard ceilings - yet rich and warm.

It is a fine example of how to convert an existing dwelling with seemingly little effort into a rich and inviting space for young children.

Via TrendHunter.

A school in Brazil that embodies the idea of the architecture as playing a vital role in learning

The Wish School in Brazil serving children aged 2 to 4 years of age is passionate about children's' learning - and has, since January been awarded by the Edumission Challenge as one of the 10 most innovative educational institutions in the world.

Spaces of welcome and retreat or reflection are included.

"Education is a process of transformation, of inner growth, in which we discover the world around us and the world discovers us as well. Education is an exchange, a subjective process lived in the moment in which each one perceives himself learning something new"   (Eduardo Shimahara)

Their belief is that education must be approached holistically - that is encompassing all elements of the individual child - emotional, social, cultural, creative, physical and spiritual. 

It was thus important for the environment (or architecture) to reflect or or enable the educators and students to "act out" and inhabit this vision to its full potential.

Rotational furniture "pods" inhabit many functions - from dividing space to containing storage and elements of play (with curtains for puppet shows).

The architects collaborated with both students and teachers to define the brief and ensure the architecture reflects their powerful pedagogy.

Designed by Grupo Garoa Architects the resulting architecture is a unique example of an intensive collaboration between the educator and their pedagogy (or educational vision), the children (or students) themselves and the designers.

Careful consideration was paid to the building's transitional spaces (i.e. inside to outside) - creating memorable experiences when traveling from one space to another.

A variety of textural surfaces and materials are used indoors and out to enrich the childrens' learning.

The architects worked within an existing shed-like and industrial building "container" - in which to "house" the pedagogical elements of "rooms" or room-dividing elements. Rather than using traditional walls, ceiling and floors, zones were created through the use of informal furnishing "pods" which are cleverly fixed to the building's structural beams and are allowed to move or rotate as the spatial needs of the spaces are determined.

Natural lighting is used to its fullest potential through the use of internal courtyards and atriums with skylights over.

A variety of spaces cater for all types of learning - from group collective work to more individual or quiet.

Physical and social interaction is encouraged with the diverse spatial arrangements, the many connecting stairs and atriums and blurred internal to external boundaries (with bountiful natural gardens, natural light wells, and courtyards).

Via ArchDaily.


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