Arcadia Nursery

Arcadia Nursery

Arcadia Nursery was created to provide early-years education for children of university staff, students and the general public and caters for up to 113 children ranging in age from six weeks to five years.

Arcadia Nursery by Malcolm Fraser
Arcadia Nursery by Malcolm Fraser

Arcadia Nursery was created to provide early years education for children of university staff, students and the general public and caters for up to 113 children ranging in age from six weeks to five years.

Completed in 2014, the nursery brought together two existing university nurseries, on two separate sites in the city, into a single purpose-built building with a generous outdoor play area, sited next to the university campus on the southern edge of Edinburgh.

The nursery managers were keen to work with the ‘free-play’ concept of nursery education, an approach that aims to develop children’s confidence, independence and creativity by allowing age groups to mix, by encouraging children to choose which activities they would like to participate in and whether they would like to be inside or outside, rather than having their day dictated to them. The layout reflects these ideas, while ensuring that the children are safe and easily supervised.

The site chosen for the new nursery was well covered with mature trees and the layout reflects the architect’s desire to retain as many healthy trees as possible, in order to create a sheltered and protected garden environment for the children. To avoid disturbance to tree roots, the building was raised above ground level and had to be a lightweight structure so that only short pile foundations were required. It also had to be constructed within a relatively restricted site compound.

But above all it was important to design a low-energy sustainable building which would provide a healthy atmosphere for the children. Timber, and in particular the use of a cross-laminated timber structure, answered many of these needs; it provided, in the architect’s words: ‘the perfect combination of creating a warm, tactile interior, while also using a natural, sustainable product that could structurally achieve the clear roof volumes required to ensure the mezzanine spaces were not compromised.’ Timber not only forms the main structure, it is used throughout the nursery. The external walls are clad with horizontal and vertical boards of Siberian larch together with panels of copper sheet with vertical seams. The building fabric is insulated with breathable wood fibre insulation.

Inside the nursery, the timber walls, ceilings and structure are exposed, with internal fittings and furniture also made of timber. In the garden timber is extensively for decks, walkways, fences and play features.

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