With their experiential early learning centre environment in north-eastern China, DU Studio aims to assist learning through play and creativity.

NYC Kids Club is an early learning centre that originated in New York with a curriculum based around music and art classes. As such, the Shijazhuang branch, set within a shopping centre, comprises space for art, cooking, music and dance, as well as two gym areas, within is 900-sq-m location. Designed by DU Studio, the space itself is envisioned as a ‘responsive instrument’, with each classroom built to provide an interactive, engaging and functional learning environment for children from ages 0–3.

The design language takes inspiration from Tangram; a popular logic puzzle – reputedly originating from China – comprising seven polygon tiles, which should be oriented to create patterns and shapes that complete a certain composition. DU Studio composed NYC Kids Club as an interactive ‘toy’, designing each room in different geometric shapes that have been ‘de-assembled and expanded through space’ to assist learning through play and creativity. ‘Learning emerges from the formation of meaningful and creative experiences,’ says the design team. ‘The design itself becomes a learning-support agent.’

The interior space incorporates a mixture of sensory systems that are triggered by movement or touch to create ‘meaningful associations’ through body movements and aural stimuli: a large, purple cushioned stage, positioned at the entrance, and used for dancing and singing performances, incorporates sound triggers; triangular windows in the music classroom contain embedded sound speakers that emit a mixture of sounds, encouraging curious children to walk closer to hear music and activities taking place inside the room; and the dance room is designed to ‘move together with its participants’, featuring a translucent curtain that allows visitors outside the room to view the dancing silhouettes as an extension of the activities within.

At the centre, a large treehouse playground enhances curiosity and social skills, enabling play with other children in order to become integrated into new learning practices and experiences. These simple elements are used to make each room a playful and unscripted space. Colourful, angular partition walls with glass screens divide the art classroom into two functional areas – coded in orange and purple – where children can produce works of art, create graffiti on the transparent glass, and hang their drawings from the chandelier. A partition wall comprising acrylic tubes separates the kitchen from the primary activity space. Each tube contains edible fruits, positioning the functional spatial design as an interactive experience that increases engagement and imagination.

According to the preschool, ‘research has shown that the earlier a child is exposed to diversity and discovery, the better prepared they become for success during all phases of life’. DU Studio’s holistic design approach – encompassing interiors, product design and graphics – results in a stimulating and engaging user experience, balancing learning with play and discovery. The space becomes an extension to, and facilitator of, creativity that allows children to form new habits through interactions and interpretations which increase their adaptability into real-life situations.