There is a growing realization of the importance of designing healthy, safe, and inclusive spaces for children. Architects and urban planners are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the built environment in molding the psychological, physical, and social well-being of children. Consequently, this is becoming a topic for intensive research.
Based on pre-existing research, the following points have been identified as priority components in designing spaces for children:
1. Designing secure and safe environments
Safety is one of the most vital characteristics of any child-friendly architecture. This can be achieved by consciously choosing soft materials, especially for infants. Enabling constant adult supervision can also result in safe environments for children.
The courtyard space of Kings Crescent Estate in Stoke Newington, London, offers a compelling example. To ensure parents can go about their daily chores while their children play outdoors, the design team considered passive surveillance and a connection of the large family units.
2. Enabling a healthy lifestyle
Research indicates that conscious designing of streets, parks, recreational facilities, and their locations can encourage healthy lifestyles. There is also increasing evidence that physical activity for children is associated with enhanced cognitive functioning, academic achievement, and concentration.
Fuji Kindergarten by Tezuka Architects offers an example of a design that motivates movement. Characterized by an oval plan featuring a playground in the center and a roof terrace around it, the Kindergarten encourages the natural movement of children through space. The plan promotes high athletic abilities, and children who study there move approximately 4 km per day.
3. Participatory Approach
Children like being involved in making decisions regarding matters that affect their lives. They offer unique insights, and their participation can enhance decision-making processes and outcomes. The Djidi Djidi Aboriginal School in Western Australia offers an example of this participatory approach. For the process, different mediums were used by children and teachers to share their ideas with the architects in a focus session.
4. Encouraging play
All work and no play, make Jack a dull boy. The design must be less prescriptive and more intuitive to encourage play. When this is achieved, adults don’t have to guide how to use the space, and every understanding of it becomes a learning experience. NUBO, a kid’s play center in Sydney, encourages children to exercise their imagination and exploration skills through the notion of play.
The design of a child-friendly space is advised to be such that the child can move and interact through it without the intervention of a supervisor. The presence of a conscious adult, however, is always recommended. Matali Crasset, a French designer, used “tiny architecture” to appeal to the sensibilities of its end users for his project É En Herbe School.
6. Including green spaces
Green spaces are not just convenient places to play, but also provide platforms to socialize, explore, and have contact with nature. As parks are becoming increasingly privatized, their accessibility is shrinking. There is a growing need to incorporate green spaces in the built environment to provide ‘sensory-rich experiences’ to children.
7. The importance of daylight and openness
Children don’t like being confined in the four walls of a classroom. Large windows provide opportunities for them to look outside, so they always have a visual and sensory connection to the outdoor space. The openness and emphasis on natural lighting are also known to create calmness and encourage creative thinking.
The liberation of space, here, refers to letting go of the traditional norms of what space should be like, and providing spatially rich experiences. The Shenzhen pop-up school by Crossboundaries aims at blurring the separation between the inside and the outside, not only in the context of space but also in terms of the type of activities that occur there. Such an idea ripples through a vision of a future where a school extends beyond its walls and becomes an open interactive space.
9. Deciding on a suitable color palette
Most environments for children include a combination of colors – from toys, furniture, and the façade. However, too much color can have a dizzying and over-stimulating effect. Too many options (such as colors or textures) in the same environment can confuse. Children thrive in spaces that include both energizing and calm elements. One of the simplest ways to consider color in space is the organization of zones, as seen in the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York City.
10. Understanding special needs
While designing spaces for children, it is important to personalize your design according to the special needs. An ongoing research project led by Sean Ahlquist, Social Sensory Architectures, creates therapeutic structures for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Another organization, Catalytic Action, designs play areas within refugee communities, to provide relief and liberty to a community of children that often has to grow up faster than others.