A Nature-focused Preschool in Brooklyn, NY Raises the Bar on Nature Education
Palette Architecture, a firm creating built environments to enhance the daily experiences of contemporary life, is proud to introduce Wonderforest, a nature-focused preschool in the Prospect Heights district of Brooklyn, New York. Augmenting the nature-based learning programs of Brooklyn Nature Days, providing outdoor forest education for children aged 2 to 4 years old, Wonderforest Nature Preschool is the first indoor space of its kind, and a unique new concept that raises the bar on nature education.
As the first facility of its kind, Wonderforest presented Palette Architecture with a series of challenges associated with bringing nature into the built environment of an urban storefront. The firm’s approach began with a focus on how to fit the principles of a forest school into the physical constraints of a built environment. Embracing a strategy of abstracted nature, they embarked on a quest to replicate the palette and textures of nature through simplified biophilic forms that would enable children to learn through interactions with water, trees, dirt, and the collective landscape.
Layering unique experiences
Focusing on the attributes of the storefront façade, Palette seized opportunities to incorporate natural light, establish visual connections, and create varying levels of privacy. A welcome area located along the storefront window, flanked by open-play spaces, leverages natural light to project an inviting atmosphere for passersby. The concept was centered on the process of layering spaces to create pockets of both activity and privacy, resulting in a series of sectional changes that foster exploration, and a private layer containing classrooms and support spaces. To brighten interior spaces not privy to natural light, Palette installed acoustic interior windows that also serve to provide views from the corridor where staff can oversee activities without distracting children from their experiences.
A meandering path of discovery and adventure
Separating the public and private layers of Wonderforest, a meandering path serves as a flowing connection between distinct environments including The Forest, The Greenhouse, and The Wetlands. Extending inward from the welcome area, the path embarks on a journey inspired by natural principles and the flow of water as it weaves its way along the edges of classrooms and on to the perimeter of The Forest.
The Forest is an expansive, open play area that includes swings set against a backdrop marked by a rolling green hillside of artificial grass and abstracted tree forms. Recycled materials and sustainably-harvested lumber lay the foundations of Wonderforest’s sustainable environment, where changes in topography and materiality, under the glow of suspended LED lighting, foster a sense of wonderment and adventure.
Further along the meandering path, cove lighting swoops upward in an undulating ceiling above as the journey transitions toward The Greenhouse, a narrow section defined by tall windows and a dense layer of vegetation. A variety of plant species provide educational experiences for children, who engage in their delicate care and growth along the path as it bends and descends around The Wetland.
In contrast to the more formal demeanor of the other zones, The Wetland is a durable, wet space that encourages children to immerse themselves in tactile play and sensory explorations centered on buoyancy, dynamics, and creativity. A child-sized water table and mud kitchen contribute to playfully messy adventures mimicking the essence of park pond experiences.
We are particularly proud of Wonderforest’s tangible benefits for future generations, and for its contribution to advancing new concepts in the world of design that embrace visions of a better world....Much work has been done to find ways to seamlessly blend the built environment into natural settings, but this project succeeds in reversing that flow by drawing nature into an urban environment.
Peter Miller, Partner, AIA Leed, Palette Architecture
About Palette Architecture
Palette Architecture is a leading-edge, full-service architecture and design practice. The founding partners first met as students of the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University, where their research focused on collaborative design, technical innovation, digital fabrication, and material investigations. After working at internationally renowned architecture offices, the partners reunited to form Palette Architecture in 2010 around a shared mission to create physical spaces that enhance and enrich the daily experience of people’s lives. The firm’s creative process fosters a collaborative dialogue with its clients, consultants, and builders to promote a more responsible and humane built environment.