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Cerritos College Child Development Center
HPI Architecture and Woodward Dike Associates (Landscape Architects)


Cerritos College's Child Development Center in Norwalk, Calif. engages preschoolers with 10 themed areas representing California regions, from seashore to mountains, and deserts to northern forests and chaparral.

Cerritos College was founded in 1955 as a public community college. The college is in Norwalk, Calif. (pop. 107,096), a suburb 17 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles. The college offers degrees and certificates in 87 study areas in nine divisions. Some 1,200 students complete their course of studies here each year.

The college caters to community education also, with adult classes, online six-week courses, and classes for kids, including an extensive summer program. The college also has a Child Development Center (CDC). The CDC is a preschool for 125 2-5 year olds, but is also a "laboratory school" that trains future teachers in the field of early childhood education. CDC mentors 20 college students each semester from surrounding universities and Cal State programs. The center is also a resource for other programs, college courses and students on campus, and maintains a strong relationship with other departments and community programs.


The California Agricultural area has 6 planter boxes with low-volume irrigation, bordered by citrus, plum and avocado trees.

Reggio Emilia
The CDC's approach to preschool education is inspired by the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Psychologist Loris Malaguzzi developed her pedagogic approach in the Reggio Emilia area of Italy after the Second World War. From the upheavals, killing and destruction of the war years sprang hope for new beginnings and certainly for a better world. And where better to start than with the new generation of children? The old pedagogy was that of a stern, authoritarian teacher with willow switch in hand leading a class through strict and narrowly structured instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic. Malaguzzi based her child development approach on the theory that children were endowed with a 100 symbolic languages through which to express themselves. Her aim was to lead children in such expression in everyday life through such creative "languages" as art, music and drama. This broader, more flexible and creative approach was to allow children to explore and discover in a "supportive and enriching environment" based on their interests, i.e., a self-guided curriculum. The approach is also rooted in the principles of respect, responsibility and community.


Cityscape is a mini town square with a clock tower (top middle, under the shade). The colorful decorative tiled rectangular and square blocks are the "buildings," and are surrounded by green space (artificial turf). Cityscape is shaded by 3 tensioned sail canopies ('Monotec' high-density polyethylene fabric) in 3 sizes: 154, 433 and 597 sq. ft.

In March of 2008, 12 of the staff from the Cerritos College CDC traveled to Italy to meet with educators from over 10 countries. At this conference, the group toured the infant/toddler and preschools of Reggio Emilia, spent time with the teachers and children, participated in discussion groups and viewed documents at the Loris Malaguzzi Center.


This view of Cityscape is towards the Fire Station, fire truck tricycles (the roadway around the city has lane lines) and the tunnel in the "mountain." The mountain has a rubberized surface.

The CDC understands it cannot replicate the Reggio Emilia system, as it is exclusive to that culture, however, it does start with the construct that "children are individuals and their individual differences must be acknowledged and accepted." Further, that "children construct their own knowledge through exploration, experimentation, hands-on activities and opportunities to collaborate with other children and their teachers."


The outdoor student dining area looks out to the 'Ocean Wave' seat wall and a circular seat wall. The ground is embedded with fossils of fish, sea stars and other sea creatures. The 'Willow Tension' shade structure is a 30' long x 20' projection, with 9′-6″ height clearance. This is "precontraint Serge Ferrari technology," i.e., high-tenacity polyester micro-yarn based cloth with a polymer surface layer.

The Learning Playground
The CDC has an outdoor playground designed to physically capture, encompass and express the school's fabric for learning. The outdoor space is a result of the collaboration amongst the center's teachers, the children and the architectural team. Design inspiration came from the Reggio Emilia approach, which "values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place." After intensive dialogue among the design team and the client, a design concept was created that spoke to the client's value of respecting the rights of children by enriching the identity of their space.


This area is the student "Art Plaza," which has convenient storage facilities with roll-up doors.

The outdoor space was designed to embrace what children and teachers saw as important aspects of their lives. The outdoor scene is an ensemble of spaces designed to offer different possibilities to children, teachers and students.



The "Forest Play Area" features a Landscape Structures tree house inspired by the Ponce Preserve's maritime forest at Ponce Inlet, Fla. Play elements include log steppers and a log balance beam. There is also a cleanup station (bottom) and architectural patterned security fencing. The students are encouraged to make noise here with bamboo and metal chimes, gongs, cowbells, sleigh bells and even pots and pans.

Owner: Cerritos Community College District, Norwalk, Calif.
Architect: HPI Architecture, Newport Beach, Calif.

Architect of Record: Lawrence Frapwell

Project Manager: Ammar Sarsam

Construction Administrator: Manish Trivedi

Landscape Architect: Woodward Dike Assoc.

Prime Contractors: Tilden-Coil Constructors

Preferred Landscape Inc.

MEP Engineer: S & K

Civil Engineer: Hall & Foreman


The classroom building, notes the landscape architect, is a high-end modular structure with a 10' overhang and Trex decking. This is a permanent modular building. It is installed on a concrete foundation. The manufacturer asserts that modular construction translates into 30% to 50% timesavings over onsite building construction.


Among the extras on the playground is a grocery store (2) with shelved food (1) and a checkout stand (3) with a "cash register." The entrepreneurial spirit is further evoked with a lemonade stand (4). Regardless of digital technological advances, tots still enjoy riding a tricycle (6), playing in sand, filling up a dump truck (7) and playing with running water (8). Directions to these activities are inlaid in the pavement (5).


Plant Selection

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2017.

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October 17, 2019, 6:21 am PDT

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