A Parking Lot Becomes a Colorful School for Early Childhood Education

06.17.24 | By
A Parking Lot Becomes a Colorful School for Early Childhood Education

In Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil, Estúdio Protobox has converted an underused parking garage into the Children’s Studio at Colégio Salesiano (part of the Salesiano Jardim Camburi School), a dynamic, flexible space dedicated to early childhood education, embodying principles from the Montessori method and the guidelines of the National Common Core Curriculum (BNCC). The primary goal of the project was to create an environment that fosters autonomy, collaboration, and interactive learning among children.

A brightly lit indoor playground with a wooden slide, colorful climbing knobs, and green column accents. The floor is a mix of blue and green tones, and there is open space for children to play.

To achieve this, the design was divided into five key education areas:

  1. The Self, the Other, and the We: This area promotes social interaction and communal learning without the constraints of walls, encouraging children to engage and exchange ideas freely.
  2. Bodies, Gestures, and Movements: Focused on physical activities, this section supports the development of motor skills through body movement and exercises.
  3. Traces, Sounds, Colors, and Shapes: This is reflected in the engaging furniture and floor designs that stimulate sensory and cognitive development.
  4. Listening, Speaking, Thinking, and Imagining: Featuring an arena for storytelling and idea exchanges, this space nurtures creativity and verbal expression.
  5. Spaces, Times, Quantities, Relationships, and Transformations: Designed for flexibility, this area allows children to explore and interact with their surroundings, leveraging appropriately scaled furniture.

An indoor play area with green and yellow ceiling, wooden columns, shelving units, and a slide with colorful climbing grips.

The choice of materials was crucial to meeting the project’s objectives. Blanket vinyl flooring was selected for its comfort and versatility, allowing for the creation of visually distinct and inviting areas. The material’s color flexibility enabled the demarcation of different zones with attractive, child-friendly designs.

A brightly lit room with colorful decor, featuring large cylindrical columns resembling trees, soft flooring in shades of blue and green, and playful structures for children.

The bright color palette extends beyond the vinyl floors and bespoke furniture with playful elements like abstract trees and an accordion ceiling that draw the eyes up and around the vibrant space, which spans 415 square meters (approximately 4,467 square feet).

A brightly colored indoor playground with green seating, a playhouse structure, and vibrant walls. The space has a colorful and playful design, with various play elements for children.

A colorful classroom featuring a semi-circular wooden seating arrangement with a green carpet and a mural of a sunny landscape on the wall.

Renata La Rocca, founding partner of Estúdio Protobox, emphasized the importance of the layout: “We’ve created very flexible spaces, with every element designed for teachers and students to make the most of. We have colorful and stimulating environments for children, but without neglecting the functionality necessary for teaching practice.”

Bright, spacious children's play area with green circular seating, colorful wall murals, open shelves, and a walking individual.

A modern, brightly lit children's play area with colorful furniture and a shelving unit featuring a large circular cutout. A person walks by, slightly blurred, in the background.

The project also integrates various practical and imaginative facilities to enhance daily activities and learning experiences for the children, including a mini kitchen, mini workshop, grocery store setup, art studio, children’s bathrooms, a mini grandstand, and verandas for outdoor activities.

Bright, open preschool classroom with blue and yellow walls, small tables and chairs, and cubby-like wooden structures. Large windows on the right side allow natural light to fill the space.

A brightly lit, spacious room with colorful walls, a kitchen area, tables, and chairs. The room includes decorative, house-shaped structures and has a modern, minimalist design.

In addition to the architectural redesign, Estúdio Protobox developed custom furniture to align with the project’s educational objectives. This includes small builds resembling tree houses, elements that challenge physical coordination, and portable beds, all designed to fit the children’s scale and stimulate their development.

A modern, brightly-lit room with yellow and blue walls, a countertop with sinks on the left, and small tables and chairs on the right. A glass partition with white squiggly lines separates the spaces.

A minimalist room with light blue walls, white furniture, and a set of four chairs around a table. A glass door separates this room from another space. Simple wall icons indicate gender-neutral restroom.

A brightly lit classroom with light blue chairs and white tables, wooden furniture, colorful walls, large windows, and a kitchenette area at the back.

A brightly lit, modern kindergarten classroom with white tables, gray chairs, colorful walls, and wooden play structures resembling small houses.

The transformation by Estúdio Protobox not only revitalizes a previously underutilized space but also sets a benchmark for innovative early childhood education environments, blending functionality with creative design to nurture the minds of young kids effectively.

A bright, spacious room with tables and chairs, featuring wooden house-shaped partitions and colorful walls, designed for a children's play or learning area. Large windows allow natural light to enter.

A brightly lit children's play area with geometric green ceiling panels, light wood play houses, and colorful furniture. Large windows allow natural light to flood the space.


A parking garage with white walls and several parked cars. There are orange traffic cones and a few bicycles in the background.

A dark dirty parking garage

A parking garage with white walls and several parked cars. There are a few bicycles in the background.

Photography by Thiago Santos.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.