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Little Apron Academy
A Child Haven

Landscape Architecture by Niles Bolton Associates
Photography by Kieran Reynolds Photography


Little Apron Academy in Atlanta, Ga., was constructed in order to provide employees of The Home Depot's Atlanta headquarters a daycare and preschool facility for their children. The learning academy is adjoined to the office building and features 37,000 square feet of space that now accommodates 326 preschool and kindergarten aged children all year round.


Within the building, there are 22 classrooms, two interior playrooms, an interactive workshop, four professional office rooms and support spaces. There are five separate exterior playgrounds that have a combined space of 12,000 square feet.


In the planter on the left are 18 Big Blue Lilyturf plants, Liriope muscari, A River Birch tree, Betula nigra, provides shade for the 3' foot bridge and the silver bollard (BEGA). In the planter on the right, 49 Holly Ferns, Cyrtomium falcatum, were planted. A child can be seen on the left side of the photo talking into a 'Chitter Chatter Listening Tube' (Landscape Structures). In the far back, a girl can be seen using the 'Simple XL Screw-On Jugs' (Atomik Climbing Holds).

Employees at The Home Depot's Atlanta headquarters no longer have to worry about childcare and pre-school for their children. The home improvement giant engaged Niles Bolton Associates (NBA) to develop and design the Little Apron Academy, a 37,680 square-foot learning facility with 22 classrooms and multiple indoor and exterior playgrounds at their Store Support Center corporate campus in Smyrna, Georgia. Linked to the main office via an enclosed walkway, the childcare center can accommodate 326 preschool and school age children and includes: workshops, offices, resource and nursing rooms, commercial kitchen, storage, laundries and a conference space. Five separate exterior playgrounds, totaling 12,000 square-feet, offer age-appropriate fun for the various groups and include infant, toddler and 2-3 year old play areas, a preschool-age terrace, water "sprayground" and sport court.

The design intent of the project was to create an interior space that was an extension of home, while the details reflected the Home Depot's market sector. Benches in the corridors are designed to look like stacked wood. The surroundings of every classroom feel constructed, showing the children the materials, methods and fasteners used to construct the edifice. In view of the main lobby is the workshop space, a place where children can create projects for display.


This spray park is intended for preschool aged students and was designed, constructed and installed by Hobbs Architectural Fountains, also based in Atlanta. It features two stainless steel 'Curved Rainy Daisy' fountains that stand 10' tall and have a spray zone of 15' in circumference. They each release 10 gallons of water per minute. A porous thermoplastic aliphatic rubber, installed at 3/8" thickness, called Aquaflex provides a softer, safer ground. A water hand pump is also on the property.


This 2-3 year old play area features several musical toys including a large, blue 'Tongue Drum' and smaller metal bongo drums. A total of 5 '6830 40W T4 G9' area lights (BEGA) adorn the building.

The concept behind the playground spaces was to create the spirit of a child's backyard and to allow landforms to dominate the space, allowing a child's imagination to run free. The design is devoid of traditional play structures, and instead focuses on the use of land berms as spatial dividers. Musical instruments, gardening areas and project tables allow the spaces to be used as education spaces as well as recreational spaces. In turn, giving the children a richer learning environment and a more natural experience.

Through innovative and creative landscape architectural practices, the design team was able to create outdoor spaces that provide a dynamic and unique experience for children through the basic principles of "free play." Free play is unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity that allows children to develop their imaginations while exploring and experiencing the world around them. Experts say that this form of spontaneous play is naturally derived from a child's innate curiosity, love of discovery and enthusiasm. The project demonstrates the design team's capacity to successfully integrate program requirements and re-imagine existing visual, spatial, and ecological characteristics of the site. The resulting design weaves the structure and transparency, desired by parents and operating staff, with dynamic play elements that inspire kids to have fun and let their imaginations run free.

The centerpiece of the preschool playground is a large constructed wood fort, reminiscent of a kid's tree house. The fort is fully accessible and provides spaces for group activities. It is an extension of the indoor classrooms, allowing the teachers to utilize outdoor spaces for play and learning. Additional elements for this age group include a climbing wall, stage and interactive garden with water station.


This is the view from inside the main, tree house styled, play structure. Two 5' blue '850 Chameleon' slides (Miracle) allow children to descend to the ground. The whole structure is about 5' above the ground and stands roughly 12' tall. Four toy boxes can be seen hanging below the left side of the table. The side paneling is cleverly transparent to allow faculty and parents line-of-sight at all times and from all angles.


The small cuts of tree in the foreground are 'Tree Cookies.' They are slices of real northern hardwood trees cut from a sustainable forest in New Hampshire. There are a total of 16 moving around throughout the school. Artificial turf surrounds safety surfaced pathways to limit injuries. A 'Hanging Amadindas' is seen dangling from the central playhouse.

Pops of vibrant color can be found throughout all play areas, connecting the separate zones through a cohesive design. The multi-purpose sport court is checkered with Home Depot's signature orange color. An adjustable goal allows the pre-school and school age children to play basketball while the ground pattern allows greater flexibility for four square and other games to be played.

As one of the largest employers in the metro area, The Home Depot is acting as a catalyst for promoting family benefits and educating young children. The center is open to all Home Depot employees in the metro area. By building their own center, the Home Depot has made a commitment to providing a benefit to its employees in an area that is in need of quality childcare. Having on-site, affordable, quality childcare cuts down commuting and creates a more efficient workplace. The success can be seen in the enrollment figures, which were close to capacity long before opening.

The Team
General Contractor: Skanska USA Building Inc.
Playground Contractor: Exterior Concepts, Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Conway & Owen
Civil Engineer: Eberly & Associates
Structural Engineer: PES Structural Engineers

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2018.

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November 12, 2019, 5:44 am PDT

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