My team and I have a simple theory about early-years interior design, Pallavi Dean, design director at the award-winning Pallavi Dean Interiors interior-architecture practice, says. “If you provide an environment that engages children, they will love to learn.
To bring this theory to life at Ora, Dubai’s nursery of the future, Pallavi and her team of designers – who have vast experience breathing life into early-years education facilities across the UAE – approached this project entirely from a child’s perspective.
There is no design precedent for this type of nursery in the world, so designing it was a bit like method acting, Pallavi explains. “During fit out, some of our team members actually got down on their knees to explore the physical space from a child’s height. We really wanted to ‘see’ every angle through the eyes of a young person. The narrative of the design was inspired by the image of a gentle, protective cloud, so while conceptualising the various elements of the nursery, we asked ourselves, “would a young person feel safe and happy enough to really be authentic here? It was important to make sure every aspect allowed little ones to completely immerse themselves in their physical environment, naturally navigating according to their individual paces of learning.
Ora, guided by the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was founded to better prepare children to become the future generation of leaders and global citizens. Delivering a world-class learning experience that instils the habits of innovation and futurism in the next generation, Pallavi says being future-conscious was vital to the project’s success.
“Ora’s philosophy is centred around fostering leadership and leading early-years education from Dubai, so it was important for us to incorporate the nursery’s forward-thinking ideas into its design, Pallavi explains. “Inspired by the UAE leadership’s visionary ideas and the energy of the country’s youth, we created an immersive environment to complement the nursery’s child-initiated learning methods. One of the ways we did this was by moving away from screen-based technology and designing an environment where child-safe technology is integrated into floors and walls. With the touch of a little hand, surfaces light up or display nature-inspired images or children’s artworks. We believe that all elements of a nursery’s environment – physical and human, interior and exterior – impact its educational framework, so it was imperative that the structure is transformed into a third, ‘silent’ educator that also facilitates bonding, learning and self-discovery.
Blending both analogue and digital elements, you won’t find bright colours and cartoon characters in this contemporary-whimsical space. Instead, surfaces are neutral “to encourage children and educators to become the main sources of stimulation, with a clean colour palette and minimalist eco-friendly child-size furniture taking up the rest of the nursery.
“We want children to feel inspired as soon as they walk through Ora’s doors,” Pallavi explains. “Through inspiration comes freedom, and through freedom comes self-confidence and authenticity. From there, it’s much easier for young people to feel safe enough to explore and interact with their surroundings – and educators – which encourages curiosity and creativity.
Aesthetic-and-technological design aside for a minute, Pallavi is quick to add that safety was always paramount. “Our design brief stated that, first and foremost, Ora had to be a safe, nurturing, multi-functioning environment that not only enhanced its future-conscious approach to learning but also ensured the happiness and wellbeing of the children, parents and staff.
The team matched the brief. Entirely child proofed and furnished with earth-friendly pieces, the 600-square-metre nursery houses 22 supervised but free-flowing interactive zones, including a Mars Lab that prioritises future sciences, state-of-the-art sleeping pods for babies, a comfortable feeding pod for nursing mothers, a café for parents, monitored adventure zones that encourage movement, and more.
“We’re exceptionally proud of this project, and we believe that Ora really encompasses the future of early-years education design, Pallavi says.