exterior building daytime

A Children’s Center at Stanford University Provides an Alternative to Traditional Preschool

Dorman Associates eschews garish colors and cartoon characters in the design of a parent cooperative preschool at Stanford University.

The Children’s Center of the Stanford Community eloquently illustrates the idea that architecture that engages children doesn’t have to be modeled on Disneyland. “We struggle a lot with buildings that are too commercial or too large,” says architect Chris Dorman, whose eponymous firm, Dorman Associates, has created numerous childcare and preschool facilities over the past 20 years. “The residential scale is what children are familiar with, and we’re trying to mimic that scale so they can feel nurtured in the building.”

The $15 million, 18,500-square-foot facility was commissioned by the university and accommodates more than 230 Stanford-affiliated youngsters ranging from 8 weeks to 5 years old. Run by an independent nonprofit, the school operates as a parent cooperative, providing an alternative to traditional preschool. The center’s design also offers an alternative to the campus’s Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, marked by hefty sandstone walls and red tile roofs, which have led to many beige buildings with red accents. Instead the center takes cues from a neighboring historic cottage with white board-and-batten siding. The three long buildings are also composed of contemporary shed-like volumes clad in natural cedar.

“For a long time, childcare was neglected architecturally, but bringing good design to children is important,”

Chris Dorman, principal, Dorman Associates
Daycare interior with green walls and wooden furniture

On the three-acre site, the design team created multiple buildings that jog around mature blue oak and Chinese elm trees to maximize outdoor play space and natural shade. In lieu of specifying traditional playground equipment, the architects brought in Miller Company Landscape Architects to design “natural playgrounds,” tailored to suit various age groups. An outdoor kitchen provides teachers with an area to conduct demonstration cooking classes.

Indoors, daylight filters through clerestories and sliding glass doors. (However, the infant nap area is designed so it can be readily dimmed.) To give the teachers more agency to design their own environments, the architects gave the classrooms mostly white walls, adding touches of color inspired by native flowers to create a visual identity for each group of classrooms. “For a long time, childcare was neglected architecturally, but bringing good design to children is important,” says Dorman

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Daycare interior with pink walls ad wooden furniture

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