World first concept in ECEC design announced this week
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World first concept in ECEC design announced this week

by Freya Lucas

November 13, 2018

A world first design concept for an early childhood education and care (ECEC) facility will be unveiled this week at the International Conference for Education Research and Innovation, in Seville, Spain.


The centre will be opened in New Zealand in 2020, and is the vision of former university professor, Dr Darius Singh, and his wife, Nikeeta. Based on the Gaia (earth) based education principle, the centre will be built on one acre of New Zealand native forest.


The couple, who own four other centres in Auckland and Tauranga, have said that the building will be in the shape of a giant leaf, and will model a living, breathing and self-powered entity, operating with sustainable principles including;


  • Solar energy


  • Rainwater harvesting


  • Natural ventilation


  • Recycled and sustainably sourced construction materials


  • Underground earth based heating systems.


Natural design elements will also be integrated into the construction phase, using a technique called biomimicry, which uses biological entities and processes to produce materials, structures and systems.


The couple, who have a combined 40 years experience in research and education, believe that more work is needed to connect children with nature, and to foster the appreciation and future guardianship of the planet.


“Our children are becoming more and more detached from the natural world and losing an intimate understanding and connectivity to the planet and all natural and simple things. They are the victims of a new consumer age with the highest rates of consumption and waste ever, and a new hybrid age where digital technology is ubiquitous and embedded in our society,” Dr Singh said.


The new centre will be the culmination of nature inspired design and philosophy which runs through the existing centres Dr Singh owns with his wife who is an early childhood educator, manager and teaching mentor.


“The day to day activities in the centres focus on providing opportunities to express, emphasise, evaluate and exemplify learning and outcomes through a nature and earth-based lens. The centres also promote core values that link to attributes, qualities and hidden life messages that earth has been showing for 4.6 billion years,” he said.


Linking the design of his centre with numerous Indigenous cultures around the world, Dr Singh believes the concept of Gaia – Mother Earth or Mother Nature – is integral to children’s wellbeing and understanding of their role as custodians.


“It’s not enough to simply learn about nature, we must learn from nature, in nature,” he said.


According to Dr Singh, technology, engineering and medical approaches are easy fixes for the issue of children being (anecdotally) more distracted, and seeking instant gratification, needing to put extra energy in to sit still and to focus, when the answer is to go back to nature, and go back to basics.


The building, which is dubbed ‘Secret Forest’ will have additional features, alongside those already in play in the existing four centres – such as harvested rain water supplying outdoor play streams, gardens, and bathroom and laundry systems.


One such feature will be heating of the centre that will come via an underground coil liquid heating system, warmed in summer to draw thermal energy from in winter.


“The Secret Forest will spring upwards like a giant leaf-shaped treehouse and internally it will feature a biomimicry inspired design shaped like a Nikau palm leaf, which children can see from the ceilings in each room,” said Dr Singh.


“Children, teachers, parents and caregivers will have a total immersive experience in a NZ native rainforest, with a forest walkway for them to travel away from the car park and city into another world. Free play in the forest, a mudslide for older preschoolers and shallow streams throughout the site, complete the experience,” he said.


Following on from the conference, the couple have been invited to speak at the International Conference for Future Learning in December in Barcelona.

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