The Learning Home
In designing a new building for the Karen Dom foundation, the key tenet was to create a space where children with special needs could come together, along with families and providers, in an equal setting that encourages play and growth. The 100 year old villa that the foundation currently functions out off served as an important starting point in the conception of this space. The villa setting provides multifaceted areas from rooms, to balconies to verandahs etc encouraging freedom to explore and the comfort of domesticity in a learning environment. The main task of this design was to retain this atmosphere of informality and flexibility while providing an efficient space for a growing community.
A large lobby functions as the core of the structure and serves as an expanded ‘family room’ in this new ‘house’, creating a space for collaborators to come together and directing them towards different functions.
An interwoven plan creates a playful integration of solids and voids that allows for collective interaction, while providing spaces for individual learning. The building modules are arranged as layers of baffles in a wooded site, forming a series of courtyards that gradually transform into more enclosed spaces. This layering allows for each programmed space to have a dedicated sphere of supporting functions and adjacent spillover courtyards and verandas. These open to sky spaces serve multiple programmes from recreation, therapy, sports, staff court, visitor’s court, entrance court and vocation training etc ensuring users come into daily contact with nature. The interconnected common-spaces of the centre stimulate informal activities to help increase interaction amongst the children. Served spaces are arranged in order to achieve passive-surveillance by orienting therapy rooms around the reception in the main lobby, and by placing the reception between the admin and main entrance foyer. Simplicity of form, linear layout, and familiar elements makes the project easily approachable, with verandahs and courtyards completing a legible rectangular foot print and instilling a sense of order.
Nature and the outdoors serve as another underlying component in arranging the space. The building grid transforms organically to accommodate the exiting tree locations on site, with the series of courtyards formed in order to save the optimum numbers. A continuous connection with nature is achieved through these courtyard and light towers ensuring no spaces is disconnected from natural light and allowing it to filter into the building like sunlight through a canopy of trees.