By Julian Rothen
Along Linden Avenue near Wardlow Road, there is a particular structure that is not likely to be missed. In addition to its contemporary architecture, the building features a roof garden and walls that are completely covered with various plant life.
These walls belong to the Little Owl Preschool, which was opened last July to educate children between 2 and 5 years. Meg Beatrice, the building’s architect, explains that the idea for such a unique space came from the desire to create something that would really support the educational approach of the school. That philosophy is the Reggio Emilia Approach, which was developed in Italy after World War II and allows kids to learn through exploration and discovery.
“There were three ideas related to the Reggio Emilia philosophy that I really wanted to bring to the design,” said Beatrice. “The first is the idea of flexibility for uses of space, because the Reggio Approach is about creating an environment where the children have many alternatives and options for playing and learning.” This concept led to the creation of large rooms and playgrounds around the school that allow the children and teachers to learn and teach wherever they want. “They can extend their lesson plans out to the outdoors,” she said.
A second aspect is support for the teachers. There are many areas designated as teacher space– the entire upper level of the building has rooms where teachers can retreat or work.
The third, and most basic, idea of the building’s design is its strong connection to nature, which is where the plant walls come into play. “Reggio Emilia is very much based on the idea that nature is important to the environment,” Beatrice said. In order to achieve this connection with the vertical gardens, succulents, grasses and sedums were used. These low-water plants are all drought-resistant, as well as being very slow to grow, which prevents the containers from becoming quickly overwhelmed.
Beatrice says that, over the course of many years, the plants have to be either trimmed back or changed out. “It is a wall that’s living; it’s a garden,” she said. “Even with the best irrigation and fertilizers, different plants are going to have different responses to their conditions, and they will change at various rates. It’s going to be an evolving, changing piece of the building.”
The water for the plants is currently provided by an irrigation system. “In the long run, I really would like to see that go to a greywater system, but the City at this time does not allow you to use greywater above the ground level,” Beatrice said. “I think that that will change in the future.”