Building Ideas in China

6th Sep 2018 • eiw Projects

eiw have been successful in a shortlisted, international design competition for the redesign of the Early Years precinct at the Nanjing International School (NIS).

We are excited in our first foray into China, working with a multi-cultural group of education leaders and teachers at an inclusive learning community.

Following a design thinking collaboration between NIS and NoTosh over the last 2 years, eiw approached a design concept by building upon the two stated goals:

  • Putting student voice and choice at the centre of things
  • Bursting the bubble

eiw’s human-centred design solution focuses on the learning imperatives, not purely on organizational goals. It stretches the fabric of the school to move beyond enclosure, control and silos, to an environment of fluidity, inquiry, discovery, inclusion and a diversity of learning modes.

We determined that the early years learning experience should be a celebration of all the senses. We want children to pursue discovery in this Reggio-inspired environment, embracing every opportunity available to them. Their learning environment is everywhere, it excites the senses through their eyes, through their touch, through their movement, through using their hands and feet. It is the excitement and willingness to do new things, it is an adventure. A LEARNING ADVENTURE.

At Nanjing International School we want to break free of rigid barriers, to extend the learning environment beyond a classroom, to engage and embrace indoors and outdoors. To build that feeling of adventure that entices children to explore, to inquire, to collaborate, to laugh and play, to share a developing love of life, learning by themselves, learning with their friends, learning from their friends, learning by making and testing and creating, learning with their teachers and experiencing what the world has to offer them as they grow and develop.

In exploring space for this adventure, the need for proximity to secret spaces, group spaces and data spaces was identified by NoTosh. eiw overlaid this language with the metaphors proposed by educational futurist David Thornburg in his book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck.

So how do we create a place that links these opportunities for discovery, working in harmony with the existing methods and community.

As designers we love to create experiences, but within the context of letting the users, the children, the helpers and their teachers, direct the ‘making of place’.

How do we connect the learning adventure?

eiw proposes 6 home hubs. Each Home Hub is made up of a series of connected zones, allowing for the different types of learning and social interactions to take place. At its heart is the Campfire, expanding beyond the blurred boundaries to embrace the Watering Hole and Cave Spaces. These are not new concepts, but in an early years precinct, we feel they provide a language that promotes dialogue and interaction. Linking these with the Atelier, we have designed a connected learning adventure, both indoors and outdoors in collaboration with Four Landscape Studio.

The design concept also embraces the cultural context of being in China and the desire for students, often living and learning in Nanjing for periods of only 2-3 years, the opportunity to appreciate and engage with the wider community. eiw has researched many of the regional archetypes, often derived from a strong spiritual relationship between people and nature, proposing the strong symbolism of the ‘friendship gate’, encapsulating principals of Feng Shui and utilizing naturally found materials in timber and stone throughout. The Reggio -inspired philosophy sits well within this cultural context.

The project continues to gain momentum with Chloe and Philip, together with Four Landscape Studio and Lucid Consulting, visiting the school and working through design workshops with the leadership, teachers and local consultants.

We look forward to sharing more of this exciting story and the ongoing process of Building Ideas.