The benefits of risk in the playground

For children to learn, it is essential that they take some risks and this is something pupils at Happy Days nursery, Eskbank are now able to do thanks to the new Halvorsen Architects-designed play area at the site. The playground was completed in June and the children are clambering excitedly all over the trees and ropes, negotiating the various obstacles with great dexterity. Research and common sense show that children need to take some risks in order to develop cognitive, social and physical competencies. Imposing too many restrictions on outdoor play hinders their development. They need to be given the mental and physical space to figure out appropriate risk levels for themselves. The natural forms of the trees at the …

New classroom

Pre-school pupils recently moved into their new brand classroom at Happy Days nursery, Hardengreen, near Dalkeith. The client wanted an extension to its existing nursery, which could be quickly constructed in order to help alleviate a growing waiting list. Halvorsen Architects response was to deliver a simple, timber-framed structure that is clad in Scottish larch. The classroom’s windows are all floor-to-ceiling, affording plenty of light and enabling the children to look out over the walled garden of the original Georgian house.    

Newbyres Castle – Recording the archaeology

Last Wednesday I organised the latest community workshop at Newbyres castle – a 16th century ruin in the heart of Gorebridge. The day was lead by Piers Dixon, an archaeologist from Historic Environment Scotland, who was ably helped by two colleagues – Eva Boyle and Adam Welfare. The day started with a tour of the castle and the land around. Piers speculated about what buildings might have surrounded the castle. By looking at the flat areas and man-made banks, some of which were only just discernible to the layman’s eye, we slowly built up a picture of what might have stood here once, including workshops, barns and kitchen gardens.  We then took a more detailed look at the ruins themselves …

Woodland to playground

Halvorsen Architects have just completed phase I of a new playground at Happy Days’ Eskbank nursery school. All the oak and larch trees were sourced from nearby woodland – trees that otherwise have no commercial value and were due for clearance. A tree lorry carrying all the wood just sneezed through the nursery gates and the on-board crane manoeuvred the trees seamlessly into place. It remarkably only took three days for Leslie Winthrop’s team to position all the trees – either in meter deep holes in the ground or laid above ground – and build the structure to carry the various decks. All is now ready for phase II – decking and balustrades. The play pieces follow a path from …

Slovenian wood

Last week I was in Slovenia for a tour of Riko’s timber factory in Ribnica, about an hour’s drive south of the capital Ljubljiana. I was invited there to look at their facilities as I am intending to make the Woodland Nursery out of timber, or — more specifically — out of cross-laminated timber panels (CLT). Cross-laminated timber is large-format, innovative, engineered timber that is manufactured off-site. It was first developed in the sawmills of Austria and Germany in the early 1990s there are now CLT factories right across Europe, but not yet in the UK. Although wood has been used in buildings for centuries, the development and production of large format CLT panels was the first time a wood …

Tree columns bring wildlife into nursery

Tree columns bring wildlife into nursery

Horntails, or wood wasps, have made their nests in the internal oak trees supporting the roof of Halvorsen Architects’ recently completed Happy Days nursery extension, along with several other species of insect! Rather than be alarmed at their new, uninvited guests, the creative and environmentally-friendly nursery has embraced the chance to study wildlife indoors and set their under fives a project on these mean-looking but quite harmless beasts! (See blog for more information on this project)    

A Class Apart

Good article about new ways of looking at classroom design by John McDermott of the Economist. Just what I am doing for Happy Days nurseries.

Whole tree structure – first in UK?

This is an abridged version of an article for the next issue of Association of Scottish Hardwood Sawmillers. If I had known how difficult this project was going to be, would I have still done it in the way I did? – absolutely! Genesis (J&T) Ltd., owner of a successful pre-school nursery chain in Midlothian asked me to design an extension to their Dalkeith branch. They chose my practice, Halvorsen Architects, having seen a timber treehouse we designed and built with a local P7 class. Genesis is run by a delightful and energetic family of Greek descent who I find easy to engage with due to our mutual love of the outdoors and aspirations for the children. Genesis have won many awards …

Woodland nursery

Planning permission has now been granted for a new nursery building that we have designed for Happy Days, in Eskbank, Midlothian. Midlothian Council planners refused to give consent last December, but the Local Review Body (comprised of Midlothian councillors) overturned their decision earlier this week. Happy Days moved in to Hardengreen House – a large Georgian house originally built in 1796 – a couple of years ago but have already outgrown the premises. The house has extensive grounds, with fields in front and woodland behind. The client asked Halvorsen Architects to design a new building at the edge of the wooded area directly behind the house. The proposed building has two-storeys and a floor space of 130 sq. m. It …