Building the Future of Transformative Early Learning at Lauriston
It has been both exciting and daunting to embark upon the re-imagining of Blairholme which has, in its life, experienced many iterations. From a residence for various Melbourne families to Lauriston’s Prep to Year 2 learning environment where countless students enjoyed their early years of education and exploration of the grounds during recess and lunchtime, we place great value on improving the lives of children and their families through the provision of an education that advocates for children and their voices.
The history of Blairholme
In 1866 the successful Melbourne merchant, William Bushby Jones, purchased an 11-acre allotment facing Malvern Road which he later enhanced with the purchase of a further 12 acres. He commissioned architect Lloyd Taylor to design a two-story mansion which Jones named Brocklesby.
In 1886, Jones subdivided his land and it became known as the Brocklesby Estate. His daughter Lilian and her husband John Jesson built a villa residence facing Malvern Road and bounded by Murray Street which they called Awebridge, but later became Blairholme. When they relocated to England, the house was rented until 1929 when it was purchased by Lindsay and Margaret Mildred.
Lauriston Girls’ School purchased Blairholme in 1975.
Re-imagining the Blairholme Early Learning Centre
Loris Malaguzzi, a central figure in the development of the Reggio Emilia approach to education, wrote in 1984 that we value space because of its power to organise, promote pleasant relationships between people of different ages, create a handsome environment, provide changes, promote choices and activities, and its potential for sparking all kinds of social, affective and cognitive learning. All this contributes to a sense of wellbeing and security in children. We also believe that the space has to be an aquarium of sorts that mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes and cultures of the people who live within it.
Within the philosophy of the Reggio Emilia approach is the view that the environment is the ‘third teacher’ thus it should be a safe and stimulating environment. Lella Gandini addresses this connection between pedagogy and architecture. The space becomes the container that fosters social interaction, exploration and learning. Space also has educational content, containing educational messages and is charged with stimuli toward interactive experiences and constructive learning. The piazza or central meeting space encourages different encounters and activities. This is the main square and a place where people meet together and speak with one another and hence ideas are circulated between children and adults.
Some years ago our Director of Kindergarten, Ms Fiona Ireland, and I attended a week-long professional learning program in Reggio Emilia and this activity had a profound impact on my understanding of children and their early years of learning. We were able to visit a number of early learning centres in the region and having the opportunity to observe how the children, educators and environment interacted together in the process of learning has remained with me.
Our Blairholme Early Learning Centre has proven to be an interesting design conundrum for our architect, DesignInc, as they connect Blairholme, a heritage house that has changed over the years according to the needs of its occupants and a contemporary building that will provide working space for our educators and a learning space for our kindergarten age children. Surrounding the building we will be maintaining significant trees, including a camphor laurel, and creating an external environment for babies to 4-year-old children where play and physical activity is an important element of their learning and growth.
The Blairholme Early Learning Centre has been designed to create a safe space for our children, with an emphasis on their physical and emotional wellbeing. We aim, through the design, to create spaces for learning and social interaction. We will have a number of children attending the Blairholme Early Learning Centre with their siblings and within our design considerations for this building, we have created spaces where they will be able to observe each other on a daily basis.
The Blairholme Early Learning Centre is a place where children, parents and their educators will engage with each other. An important focal point for engagement will be the piazza situated between the original Blairholme and the contemporary building. The piazza will become a gathering place for interactions and activities.
Research has shown that diverse spaces are needed for learning, with varying sizes and different characteristics. We have taken this into consideration when considering how the original Blairholme will be used for babies to two-year-old children. For our three- and four-year-old children who will use the new contemporary rooms, our educators will have the flexibility to include larger and smaller spaces within each room through their arrangement of furniture and materials. We will have wet areas and the broad verandahs will become spaces for learning and play.
Several studies show that when an occupant can control and improve air quality this helps improve learning performance. The educators will be able to control temperature within each room and make use of the openable windows. For our three- and four-year-old children, the educators will have the ability to open the large glass sliding doors onto the covered verandah and the rooms themselves are filled with natural light, thanks to large windows and skylights.
Careful design and acoustic consideration are needed to mediate both the sound coming from outside, such as the traffic and weather, and that generated internally by interactions between children and educators. Where needed, we have utilized acoustic mitigation, particularly within the original Blairholme, and our educators will have the opportunity to adapt their rooms according to the type of activities and learning they create for the children.
We have chosen a neutral colour palette for interiors within the Blairholme Early Learning Centre. The children will create areas of colour through their own creative works and the educators will have the flexibility to change their spaces according to the themes they develop for the children’s learning.
Externally, we have given careful consideration to the colour palette for the heritage Blairholme and maintained a neutral palette for the contemporary portion of the building.
We are particularly excited about the landscape design for our Blairholme Early Learning Centre which has utilized existing trees and plantings, and also created new play spaces for the children. The landscape design allows for spaces to be used for age-appropriate activities, and also for the children to safely explore their environment which will incorporate a range of play equipment and natural areas where the children will create their own games and play. The children will help us to decide how the outdoor spaces will be used.
We aim for the Blairholme Early Learning Centre to become a community where our children, parents and educators feel a strong sense of belonging. As we settle into the centre, we hope to have regular opportunities for our families to join the children and their educators in various activities. We further hope to create opportunities for intergenerational learning, where the children will be able to spend time with and learn from the elders of our own school and local community. Blairholme Learning Centre will, like to centres of Reggio Emilia, become a place where our children are part of a family that nurtures their learning and growth and acknowledges them as constructors of their own learning.
Susan Just, Principal
As a new generation of Lauriston students prepare to embrace these revitalised facilities in 2024, the rich heritage and enduring charm of Blairholme will forever remain in the hearts of all who have called it home in the past. It’s a legacy that will continue to resonate, cherished by every Blairholme student and family. Recently, a group of students who have attended Lauriston from Prep through to Year 12 embarked on an adventure to revisit Blairholme which is currently under redevelopment.
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