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An urban situated centre provides a miniature city for its children




Nestled within urban Sydney, Australia - Darlinghurst is a highly considered and quality centre for early childhood: East Sydney Early Learning Centre.


Designed by Andrew Burges Architects, the project called for adapting an existing 1920s brick warehouse into a 4-storey EC centre and top-floor community space. 


The bridge + outdoor play


Due to a laneway running adjacent to the building - the architects have created a "tree-house" bridge to connect the internal spaces with the outdoor playspaces.

Above: Models showing options for how this connecting bridge might take shape and incorporating the existing trees on site.


The light lattice-type bridge structure appears to float - still allowing plenty of light into the public lane. New sandstone steps were provided leading down from the street.


Once across the connecting bridge you arrive at a deck which delicately preserves the existing trees with powder-coated green and white fencing to stop children falling through.




Below this deck are concrete ramps, turf-surfaces, a sandspit, a 'stage' with windows (or holes through the floor) to the deck above and a gazebo offering shelter and a place to sit.


The 'mini-city' concept


Commonly used by architects when designing EC centres - is the concept of the miniature town or village (see here and here). Varying sized 'houses' are placed within the building framework and thus are able to divide space into varying zones for different functions. The 'left-over' space is used as public squares, streets and pathways for random social interactions and uses.


The concept model above shows the various house shapes that are used to organise the centres' space.


The diagram above showing the 'random' placement of houses and the connection of with the adjacent 'tree-house' bridge and outdoor play space.


Above: the diagram shows the top-floor being kept open to the sky with house forms connecting multiple floors.



An aerial image showing the site's location within Sydney. The early childhood centre could be seen as a metaphorical reflection of its greater context.


Different surface materials further help to break down the space into zones - for walking, sitting, playing....


The top-most storey is partly left open to the sky - with the sandpit envisaged as a central plaza - or meeting space.


The 'houses' providing windows connecting to the outside. Seen above left - a window to the sandspit, and right to the laneway from off the street.



A rich palette of mostly natural materials have been used - stained timbers, pale birch ply, grooved linings, concrete, steel and brick (to name a few).


Signage


Another (very cool) feature is the custom-designed signage - designed by Toko inspired by children's building blocks.




The signage works to reflect the language of both modern modular architecture which is broken down into purist forms; as well as reflecting the seeds of early childhood - the Froebel system of play objects or 'gifts' to aid in a child's development through creative play - read more on this here and here.





The plan and wall elevations above investigate how the various spaces will be used and moved through - considering materiality and scale.

A big congratulations must be made to East Sydney Learning and Andrew Burges Architects for a highly considered approach to designing for EC in what is a tricky existing site.


Via ArchDaily, Dezeen and BPO.

Amanenomori Nursery

 

The three-storey Amenenomori Nursery designed by Aisaka Architects' Atelier in Japan, places "play" at its core - with a grassy "green" including mound, ponds with miniature wharfs over and a sandpit, ladder and slide connecting the ground with the terraced deck level above.


Seen above, one side of the grassy mound features a climbing wall. 

Administrative spaces are aligned along the centre's entry allowing views to the playground and ensuring visual surveillance.

A key design characteristic is the fantastic decked rooftop and gardens, offering views over the inner courtyard play area and out to the surrounding neighbourhood.

The architects chose to keep the material palette natural and minimal, opting instead to celebrate the essence of the material - the natural weathered patina of timber, the cold and unforgiving hardness of steel.

The Level 1 deck leads up to a Level 2 top-storey - with terraced steps leading up like a mountain.


Internally, the neutral and minimal material palette continues. Ambient light, including natural light wells and narrow spaces offers natural cross-ventilation, creating a comfortable and healthy environment.

Seen above left, light dances across the right wall leading from ground floor to the L2 roof above.


The design with its many decks, stairs, ramps and bridges and tilting, curving planes (floors and walls) allow for a multitude of spatial experiences.

Meal times in early education & care in Japan play an important role in the day. Seen above, a window set at the children's height allow them to witness how food is prepared. On the rooftop, a vegetable and herb garden teaches children about how food is produced (and grown).

3D diagrams showing the concept - 1) Inner green 2) wrapping climbing floor around the inner green 3) external walls to cloak the interior with cuts allowing controlled exterior elements inside.

Section through mound (on left) and the levels with rooftop terrace (decks and gardens) on top. The architects integrated environmental principles into their design making the most of the natural sun, air (cross-ventilation), rain (with harvesting and recycling tanks), thermal (under-ground) heat storage and light (among others).

The architects (as often displayed in Japanese architecture) have at Amamenomori Nursery successfully utilised space. Maximising the potential for social connectivity / inclusion and in encouraging active exploration and physical movement, whilst also creating a safe and comfortable environment for the young children.

A Small woodland nursery in Germany

 
I would love to see this nursery photographed with a hubbarb of children in it. We can however, imagine what it MIGHT be like; tranquil, what with it being surrounded by lush greenery, the inside featuring natural timber and daylight. While it’s decentralised plan connecting spaces (indoors and out) will be providing a feeling of connectivity, community and a buzz of activity.

Timber decks, floor to ceiling glazing and a central garden at the building’s core or “heart” are other features of this nursery in Hamburg, Germany.

Designed by office Kraus Schoenberg the new centre caters for newborns to children of 3 years of age.

Influenced by the small scale of local residences surrounding the area, the early childhood centre is arranged into a cluster of units accommodating different functions around a central shared core. This ensures “everyone is able to see each other through the cloister-like central space” says architect Timm Schoenberg (source).

The glazed garden within is surrounded by open space for active play, whilst its walls feature ply “cubbies”, benches and large deeply inset windows in which to sit and admire the views to the outdoors.

Wood is used throughout as the material of choice for its tactile qualities. Glue-laminated beams supported by timber columns form the exposed ceiling and structure, whilst Finnish plywood is used for the joinery and linings internally. Externally, rough-sawn larch boards seem to justify the buildings right to be here, enabling it to weather with the surrounding trees with time and use.


Via Dezeen and Inhabitat.

A centre in Chicago which offers children a chance to interact first-hand with the world

 
Instead of the usual bombardment of bright colours and plastic play equipment, this child centre offers children opportunity to discover natural phenomena in the natural world. 


The UChicago Child Development Center in Stony Island designed by Wheeler Kearns chose minimally processed materials for its construction and a z-shaped plan, optimising daylight and providing plenty of access to the outdoors (of which have a footprint larger than the building itself).


The eastern wing, clad in tree bark, is designed for infants and toddlers. The bark is constantly drawing attention, the architect Larry Kearns says, noting that people "always want to come up and touch it."


The western wing is clad in unpainted cement board siding serving children up to 5 years old.


A gently folding roof (half of which is covered with vegetation) shows exposed steel beams and tray decking under, whilst internally and clerestory windows provide ample natural light. 



At the centre of these two wings is the building's entrance and heart. The journey to which is characterised with monumental boulders, a gabion stone fence and ornamental trees providing a sensual and memorable experience upon the child's arrival.

The projects' architects Wheeler Kearns were influenced by the historic Jackson Park across the road designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1871, whose principles of freedom of movement and natural equality were to create a unified and total work of art were expressed with winding and inviting paths. Further to this was the idea of 'free association' - therefore giving expression to areas that encourage socialisation or meeting places. (For more on Olmstead's parks see here).


Rather than grand design statements, the architecture offers subtle variety and an abundance of texture to encourage many types of play and learning experiences.

Says the AIA (2005 Design Excellence Awards): "[the centres' design] emphasizes the natural landscape over the built one [including] different surfaces inviting children to crawl, roll, ride, climb and walk - to learn about their five senses while interacting with nature."

And when it rains, the water falling onto that roof is purposely spilled into splash tanks, which divert the stormwater. It becomes like a fountain, Kearns explains, demonstrating a natural phenomenon to the city kids playing inside the center.


Here, the built environment not only encourages children to interact with nature, they are willed into valuing it.



Project submitted by Wheeler Kearns Architects.

 

site by Ana Degenaar