Reggio focused ECEC service, BiraBira, opens in Vic, realising long term dream
Inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy and ethos, Victoria Voulgaris and husband Chris Garris have spent ‘the best part of the last decade’ developing a vision for an early childhood education and care (ECEC) service which embraces mixed age grouping, and provides a customised space to realise one of the core tenets of Reggio – a sense of community.
BiraBira, located in the Victorian suburb of Cheltenham, is the realisation of this work, and was designed in collaboration with architect Gaurav Rajadhyax of R Architecture. The building focuses on reimagining an existing warehouse space as an ECEC environment which centres around a central courtyard.
Unusually for a metropolitan ECEC development, Bira Bira exceeds legislated spatial guidelines for both children and staff, and has other “educator focused” spaces such as consulting rooms, a boardroom and a staff retreat.
“The design concept,” Mr Rajadhyax explained, “basically takes a large warehouse and breaks its volume into smaller pods, all arranged in a u-shape around a central spine, which is the courtyard. We have then opened up the roof along the central spine, effectively illuminating all the internal spaces and providing the legislated outdoor area within the warehouse footprint.”
As a result, the courtyard space facilitates collaboration between children of all ages, with the exception of a dedicated space for those children not yet walking, allowing for free play and socialisation, as well as supporting family groups to remain together.
“It was very important for me to have our reception area opening to the playground. I felt that when children saw the playground they would be much happier to come in, rather than experiencing hallways and rooms that meant nothing to them”, Ms Voulgaris explained.
Looking down into the courtyard, each space has a varying form and materiality read as separate buildings, which creates the feeling of a village and breaks down the scale so that it is ‘appropriately stimulating, while not overwhelming for children.’
Centre manager Aimee Burey said she loves the indoor-outdoor connectivity.
“Being able to open the doors and take advantage of being inside/outside during activities and even just being able to watch the kids playing while I’m sitting at my desk make it such an enjoyable place to be”.
Having defined spaces for meals, consultations, reading and staff breakout spaces gives parents and educators the opportunity to have gentle transitions into the service, as well as supporting children with additional needs when there is a need to meet with specialists, or have some space away from others.
Providing a collegiate and supportive environment for staff was a high priority for the design of BiraBira. Ms Voulgaris said she was ‘thrilled’ with the large boardroom space, which was extremely well-utilised when the opening of the centre was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “We were able to run workshops with the educators, with adequate space to break into small groups to develop ideas”.
The environment at BiraBira acknowledges the physical and mental strain that can be placed on educators and carers by providing a staff retreat that facilitates withdrawal from the learning environment. Sitting above the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the centre’s day-to-day operations on the first floor, the staff retreat overlooks the central courtyard and provides comfortable seating, a kitchenette and most importantly, a place that is removed from the workplace to relax during a break.
For more information about BiraBira, please visit the website, here.