Location: Holland, Michigan
Located on the Outdoor Discovery Center’s Nature Preserve, The Patricia Eldean Education Center is home to the Little Hawks Discovery Preschool, a nature-based preschool program. The site was chosen due to its position as a central hub for the entire nature preserve. The challenge was to provide a building that would continually connect children to the outdoors, even for programs conducted indoors. Exploration of the natural world is encouraged through a compact, efficient building, reinforcing the principle that nature is the primary classroom. As part of this approach, a large nature-based learning area, encompassing both the new and existing buildings, provides for engagement with nature while offering a setting for directed outdoor learning as well, including multiple structures and settings for the children to experience and experiment with elements found in nature – earth, water and wildlife.
The two classrooms are voluminous; creating an open feeling with a large glass wall that takes advantage of natural sunlight and opens up the view from the classrooms to the outdoor learning area and nearby pond. The windows and doors allow natural breezes and sounds to permeate indoor spaces. The expressive roof form, expanding outward in two directions toward the landscape, also services to direct rainwater to two large scuppers that spill into an adjacent rain garden defining the entry landscape to the building. Sun, wind and rain all play an active role in the education of the children. Intentionally addressing these natural forces with the architecture also serves to make the building more energy efficient by mitigating the need for artificial lighting, heating and cooling.
Building materials used in a more natural state are intended to knit the building into the surrounding landscape and existing architecture on the campus, including wood throughout and raw polished concrete. Practically, these materials also provide a necessary resilience for a program that brings the outdoors in.