Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority Headquarters
Government offices aren’t known for their whimsical nature. But the team from design studio Roar decided to create an exception with the headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority (ECA). Yes, the space had to fulfill the professional needs of the 100-person team of child education specialists, but it also had to reinforce their mission: promoting the development and well-being of kids 0-8 years old.
The project was built around Roar’s user-centric philosophy: “We don’t start with pretty pictures. We start with the people that use the space,” says architect Pallavi Dean, creative director and founder of the Dubai design studio.
Yet in the case of ECA’s HQ, that required a strategic balance. Collaborating with an array of experts—from a color psychologist to early child development specialists—the team found its way to a space that’s childlike, but not childish. Take the traditional staff photos found in many offices. For ECA, the team instead created handmade ceramic portraits that resemble a child’s artwork.
To simulate a child’s freethinking, dynamic mind, the team moved away from straight lines—instead, embracing curves and turns, with a series of carefully curated hubs, linked by organic, flowing walkways. One of those hallways features distorting mirrors that make visitors appear larger or smaller. And even the bathrooms have large and small doors for entrances.
Other signature features include a “kid zone,” for the children of staff to socialize and play, as well as a maternity room where nursing mothers can find privacy, comfort—and reclining furniture.
Sourcing the office’s eclectic mix of furnishings from about 35 brands was complicated by the pandemic and the blockage of the Suez Canal that halted a big chunk of the region’s trade in March.
Despite the logistical issues, Roar ended up with what it calls “a space that blends playful and colorful elements with a cutting-edge approach to workspace design.” And ECA team members have an office that offers the ergonomics and layout they need to do their jobs—whether they’re immersed in solo tasks or collaborating. Though they’re also greeted by a life-size fluffy blue monster every time they walk through the lobby, a not-so-subtle reminder of the agency’s goal to help children.