Nook Play and Learning Space – Ballston Quarter

  • area / size 3,500 sqft
  • Completed 2019
  • Mickus Projects designed a new children’s play and learning space with interactive elements at Nook in Arlington, Virginia.

    Nook  reimagines the “family-friendly” destination as a curated, gallery-like experience, filled with thoughtfully designed furniture and multi-sensory installations. Mickus Projects designed the space and fabricated several of the feature millwork pieces. This is the 3rd venue to open for the nascent modern family brand, and the most ambitious design and programming effort to date. The open layout, acoustically absorptive surfaces, and refined material palette of natural birch, grey textiles and white backdrops, are all deliberately chosen to offer a relaxing experience for all the senses, and allow the imaginative activities to come into focus. No rainbows needed.

    Within the open and glass-walled space, the design strikes a balance of visual connection (between parent and child) and layering of elements in the space (encouraging movement amid the diverse installations). A 4-foot high datum is set throughout the space, comprised of freestanding L-shaped panels, forming literal “nooks,” in clusters throughout the space. Parents’ eyes are above that datum to plan their route. Kids’ eyes are below that datum, immersing them in the content of a specific installation.

    Each nook is programmed with open-ended themes. A combination of visual, tactile and educational elements have built-in flexibility to update content over time. The nooks are interwoven within a larger field of millwork elements, including art tables, a library and helix-shaped play structure, each infused with a haptic quality. The nooks are also a moment where parents and kids can experience and play with a curated selection of toys.

    The entry experience is devised as a moment of calm with a slim kiosk for checking in under a trellis of translucent fabric strands. Grid-like bookshelves are part library, part display and part storage for guests. Directly opposite the bookshelf wall is a thick, space-separating partition, wrapped in felt, with an inset birch bench for two. It has affectionately become known as the “Buddy Box.”

    The Helix play structure is a central focus of the space, visually and programmatically, stretching nearly fifty feet in a figural double somersault through the space. The segmented tube structure is built out of birch plywood with steel plates reinforcing the connections. The inherent strength of the helix shape resists torsion and remains completely stable with kids or adults climbing all over it. Kids crawling through it experience a perspective-distorting challenge, as floor becomes wall becomes ceiling. For parents, the science and math connotations of the helix shape are quite deliberate. This connects to one of the core concepts of Nook: to stimulate imagination and learning through experience.

    The experience of the space overall sends signals on two wavelengths: to kids it’s a place to explore, be curious and have fun. To parents it’s an intelligently designed, minimal and calm sequence of installations to connect with your child and watch their imagination unfold.

    Design: Mickus Projects
    Photography: Abby Jiu, Erin Fabio