Everyone is influenced by their surroundings, including children. In fact, a child’s environment is integral in influencing and inspiring them. The Reggio Emilia educational philosophy agrees. Forming part of their fundamental principles is the concept that a child’s environment is also their teacher.

Project Name: Burgmann Early Learning Centre
Studio Name:
Cox Architecture
Location: Canberra, Australia
Photography: Anne Stroud
Completion date: 2020

Burgmann Early Learning Centre by COX ARCHITECTURE - Sheet1
Exterior View ©Anne Stroud

“A child learns just as much from the environment they are in as they do from their parents and teachers. Providing a creative, nurturing environment for a child to play and learn will only increase the amount of knowledge they take in.”

The other key principles that make up the Reggio Emilia Education philosophy are:
• Children can construct their learning.
• Children learn their place in the world through interactions.
• The adult is their guide.
• Document your child’s thoughts.
• Children have many languages.

With this philosophy as a guide, COX set out to design the Burgmann Early Learning Centre. In Canberra, COX has used the Reggio Emilia education philosophy to design a space that encourages children to learn through experience. The centre’s design is driven by the pedagogical strategy that a child’s environment is fundamental to their development, incorporating indoor/outdoor connections, rhythm and movement, warmth, accessible scale and flexibility.

Burgmann Early Learning Centre by COX ARCHITECTURE - Sheet2
Play Area ©Anne Stroud

The design approach enables and supports curiosity and creativity, emphasising natural materials and lighting, adaptable interiors, clear organisation and accessibility. A central piazza and shared learning spaces caters to learning and play for all children, as well as acting as a gathering space.

COX Director Karen Clutson says that this central zone is full of spaces that are experienced differently depending on the view or journey within the space. “Rather than create a single large space, the asymmetrical piazza supports expansion out from the studios into areas which naturally connect,” she says.

Studio spaces are accessible directly off the piazza, functioning as hubs for additional learning, quiet time and focused creative activities. The Burgmann ELC uses architecture to encourage self-expression and communication, where communal amenities encourage shared use, and quiet, reflective spaces give opportunities for individual space and down-time.

Burgmann Early Learning Centre by COX ARCHITECTURE - Sheet3
Open Play Area©Anne Stroud

Classroom spaces are functional and flexible, large sliding doors are utilised to change room scale while asymmetric forms are purposely designed to create space for group learning as well as independent activity in quiet nooks and corners. Storage has been addressed through thickening of partitions to extend forms and conceal flexible cupboards faced in pinnable material to display artwork and pictures.

The client emphasised the importance for Burgmann ELC to function as a home-away-from-home and the interiors are a deliberate move away from the primary colours and decoration. Materials create domestic connections and the restrained colour palette is an inviting canvas – offering children space for self-expression through display and personalisation. Children truly ‘activate’ this space with their colourful world of play and movement.

COX provided master planning, architectural and interior design services for the project, giving us the opportunity to deliver an integrated project. The close relationship between architect, client and users allowed an iterative and hands-on approach realising a meshing of the Reggio Emilia philosophy and Burgmann’s own early educational principles.

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