From March 11-14, The World Forum on Early Care and Education, through the Global Collaborative on Design for Children and the Nature Action Collaborative for Children, held the 2015 World Forum on Design conference in Rotorua, New Zealand. The conference was the first of its kind to focus on the production of real design concepts for early childhood programs in Ghana, Cambodia, and Australia. The conference brought together leading architects, landscape architects, designers, and educators, to explore the new world of cutting edge design for young children while maintaining deep consciousness of the need for cultural awareness of the development of children’s spaces. While the conference also featured individual presentations from experts on topics such as the neuroscience of early childhood design (presented by Ken Jaffe), the integration of nature into all aspects of interior and exterior design for children (presented by leading nature educator Claire Warden), and many others, it focused on three days of intensive design work carried out by three groups assigned to the work in Ghana, Cambodia, and Australia. ICRI has never participated in a conference that has had such intense design planning and discussion, in certain cases from 8am to 7pm, that resulted in 15 sets of concrete conceptual plans that were taken back by Ghanaian, Cambodian, and Australian children’s leaders for use in their own countries.
The conference, set in the spectacular Rotorua/Blue Lakes area of New Zealand, incorporated visits to stunning early childhood programs with wonderful integration of cutting edge design with the natural beauty of the local landscape. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the conference was the tenacious, demanding work carried out by each table, working to make an outstanding, cost-effective, and beautifully integrated design that would fit with the culture and conditions presented at the local level in three countries ready to use these designs to build change for children.
One of the reasons that the New Zealand conference venue was chosen was the fact that the country of New Zealand is now considered by many to house the best designed early childhood programs in the world. New Zealand constantly integrates spectacular, innovative, building designs with natural surroundings indoors and outdoors. New Zealand appears to now have overtaken Sweden and Norway as the most innovative designer of children’s spaces in the world. We believe that all of us have so much to learn from the New Zealand experience of uniting children with beauty, functionality, and nature every day.