|This LEED-Gold-certified children’s center houses nine classrooms for up to 128 students ranging in age from six months to five years. The complex is a microcosm of the surrounding ecology, designed to illustrate natural processes and teach students about active and passive systems of environmental conservation. By promoting understanding of the site’s sustainable systems, the center is itself a central part of the school’s curriculum. Through observation and play, the children learn about the preciousness of water in California’s arid climate.
Caltech’s Children’s Center cultivates qualities of curiosity and inquiry through the integration of S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) into the daily life of each age group. The Center is designed as a laboratory for natural phenomena, featuring the interactive force of water. Through observation and collection, children (and families) will understand the true source of water (precipitation) in our climate while acquiring a sense of the quantities required to ‘fill’ various ‘containers’ such as a tank, a river bed, a bucket, a cup.
Carved into the sloping contours of the site an ‘arroyo’ serves as a natural source of discovery, filled with rocks, grasses, bugs and birds. It links the yards of all three age groups while functioning as a bioswale to conduct, retain, filter and dissipate storm water on site. ‘Bridges’ cross the lower ‘stream bed’ linking play areas and age groups while allowing children to experience and investigate the three dimensional qualities of the Center’s topography. Each ‘bridge’ includes a different S.T.E.A.M. function such as a lever to dam water flow in the arroyo, transparent multicolored windows, or one that casts shadows to record time, day and seasons.
The building program is distributed into three separate and appropriately scaled buildings organized by age group. Infant rooms are located in the quiet and lowest, Southern end of the site, furthest from existing tennis courts and buffered from parking lots by administrative and service wings. Toddlers are located in the center of campus between the youngest and oldest residents with their play yard to the South, adjacent to the Infant yard. Pre-schoolers occupy the highest point at the northern boundary of the site, with a view of the Toddler rooms and in direct connection with Science Pavilion.