East Renfrewshire Early Years

East Renfrewshire Council identified five locations for the development of new build Early Years facilities. Each of the five buildings demonstrate a paradigm shift in the design of environments for young learners with a focus on the importance of external learning and the experience of nature and landscape first-hand.




East Renfrewshire Council



In response to the Scottish Government’s policy to increase the early learning and childcare provision East Renfrewshire Council (ERC) identified five sites for development.

Their brief requested that the new facilities be constructed with good quality, low maintenance materials that were contemporary, simple and elegantly designed. ERC wanted a brand identity reflected in their new facilities with each centre having a sense of community belonging. The buildings were to be unobtrusive and sit harmoniously within its green setting, with a layering of public/private and internal/external spaces.

Through close consultation with ERC and their Early Years Team an exemplar nursery model was developed. The design solution is based on a simple spatial sequence of ‘arrival and welcome’, moving into a large open plan learning landscape with bespoke learning settings arranged by the teachers and pupils, then into an external classroom or covered outdoor play deck before the final transition into the natural surrounding landscape used as an open learning space. Children are provided with zones for art, reading, active play, nurture, quite time and dining complimented by wide corridors and minimal doors to encourage the children to explore freely. Nursery class zones are naturally lit with full height windows, bright and airy volumes, all with visual aspects onto the ‘outdoor’ learning spaces.

A fabric first approach was adopted from the outset with robust materials chosen for performance and to maximise building life. The proposals take the form of modest, single storey pavilions set within the landscape. The building profiles and roofscapes create a contemporary vernacular language and consistency in materiality gives the buildings a distinctive identity. In this way, they act as “brand buildings”, examples of the importance the Council places on its learning environments for children, staff, parents and as seen by the wider community.

Each of the five buildings demonstrate a paradigm shift in the design of learning environments for new young learners by also recognising the importance of outdoor learning which enable children to experience nature and landscape first-hand at the beginning of their young lives. The design solution supports young learners by encouraging them to investigate, enquire and learn in small groups or as individuals in their nursery and out in the natural landscaped/outdoor play spaces while also enhancing their wellbeing and confidence.

The aesthetic approach both inside and outside is minimal, clean, and unfussy. A light toned “tumbled” brick that is resilient and maintenance free forms much of the external walling, with a close centred timber cladding to areas of the façades that are protected by canopies. The simple aluminium standing seam roof forms were developed to minimise required maintenance. Internally, natural materials have been used with furniture and equipment create moments of colour. The real colour comes from the children and their work.

The Early Years facilities offer safe and nurturing learning environments for the children of East Renfrewshire. The open plan learning landscape and outdoor spaces give them the opportunity to explore, create and learn, to build confidence as an early learner and to build friendships within their own little nursery community.

Project gallery

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The Challenge

The challenge was to develop a family of buildings “all alike but different” whist responding to the individual character and specific conditions of each site. The buildings were to be high quality, flexible, unobtrusive, sit harmoniously within their green settings and enhance the outdoor learning experience of children.

The Solution

With the focus on outdoor learning environments, jmarchitects approach blurs the line between interior and exterior spaces. Each of the buildings relate closely to the surrounding landscape and site conditions; working hard to blend into the context in a sensitive manner. The double height internal ‘learning landscape’ provides an exciting and flexible environment which opens directly to the external play space.

The Outcome

The five buildings demonstrate an innovation in the design of early learning environments with a focus on experiencing nature and landscape first-hand as part of education. The designs support young learners to investigate, enquire, learn and play in spacious, light and airy playrooms and natural landscaped spaces, enhancing their wellbeing and confidence.

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