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Glazed brick, dynamic forms and colours reign

I am loving the work of McBride Charles Ryan for their brave forms and quality, innovative and considered use of material and colour. Below are some of their celebrated works, most of which are educational and cater to the early years along with other ages (yet some are not at all!)

The Penleigh and Essendon Middle Girls School (PEGS)

At the Penleigh and Esssendon Middle Girls School is a rich, diverse and high quality environment responding to the needs of very distinct student groups whilst providing an architecture that gives the school a unique and special identity.

Sweeping curved walls of glazed brick banded in white, green and blue changes in both scale and intensity reveal and conceal views and generous spaces interconnect classrooms forming the building's backbone or spine.

The building's design language extends to the landscaping, pathways and custom-designed joinery throughout as seen above with the use of astro turf and white curving steeped steps.

The building's form works to blur the boundaries between inside and out, becoming a landscape itself.

Photos by Annette O’Brien 

Dallas Brooks Community Primary School

At the Dallas Brooks Community School, generous courtyards link small communal teaching areas. Spaces for different aged children are arranged cyclically, mirroring the students' growth from early learning to early adolescence.

Keen to create a community hub as well as a school, the architects developed a concept based on walled cities - a typology that would also resonate with the multitude of cultural groups in the community also.

The angular and colourfully glazed profile of the facade was derived from silhouetted imagery of the school's surroundings, whilst the colour scheme is continued inside helping to aid orientation around the campus.

Photos by John Gollings

Fitzroy High School

Fitzroy School (above) has chosen to make a style statement with its waving banded coloured facade to reflect its philosophy of innovation in education - a model of progressive education.

And two projects which are most definitely not educational, but are so visually striking that I just HAD to share are the houses below.

Letter Box House

Aptly named "Letterbox House" for the facade which appears to open like a letterbox.

From the architects: "It's like a half space, half enclosed, half open. Neither in nor out - a new version of the good old Aussie verandah."

The buildings form is an ambiguous one. Where is the front door? As the architects say: "You don't need a ‘front door' in a holiday house - you just find your way in."

Photos by John Gollings

Cloud House

The Cloud House needs not much explanation to its source for inspiration.

An extension to a double-fronted Edwardian house, the extension's form create a dramatic effect both viewed from externally and internally, where walls meet seamlessly with the ceiling.

A disentegrated red-coloured 'box' acts as the kitchen bridging between the old and the new.

Photos by John Gollings

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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.

Small woodland nursery

I'd love to see how this nursery looks once thriving with a hubbub of children using 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.

Architects collaborate with children and the wider community to provide an inclusive building to be enjoyed by all

Harraby Community Campus impressively encompasses not only a primary school and two early years' nurseries, but also includes facilities for the wider community, such as a community centre, refurbished arts theatre, cafe AND children's centre.

The sharing of space and resources providing the people of Harraby a sense of vibrant community.


Seen above is the architects' conceptual sketch.

Section showing the "layered" approach of roofs of varying shapes and scales.

The town of Harraby, once a village, was, during the post-war years converted into housing estates as seen below. The surroundings are therefore characterised by two-storey terraces and semi-detached villas displaying an image of layered roofscapes, and beyond, open farmland.

In response to this context, the architects Atkins Global created a building that abstractly represents the surrounding disrict with its undulating suburban roofscape. Where the expression of the nursery, school and community elements are articulated as a series of linked, but distinct pavilions (or "houses"). Proudly, each pavilion is crowned by a translucent lantern - a beacon - that internally helps light the spaces within.

Home bases

Each pavilion or "house" forms the classrooms or home bases for the primary school each connecting to the outside with large sliding doors. 

Each of these pavilions are designed as informal learning areas with breakout spaces between, providing many types of learning space, like a 'devolved active library space'.

Custom built-in joinery (desks, storage, internal windows and doors) serves the functionality of the childrens' learning activities.

Town squares

From left, the buildings' ground floor plan, roof plan and its siting showing the surrounding context.

Like the roof echoing the surrounding town, interior spaces are organised around the metaphor of a traditional town - with streets and squares. For example, the community cafe and school hall is articulated as a square or gathering place with its large volume wrapped with spaces for movement and views to the external garden courtyards.

Seen left is the school library, whilst right is the school hall with connections internally and externally.

Overall, the considered and well-researched design (which incorporated a collaborative design process) reinforces key themes of learning, gathering and community under one roofscape that is inclusive and welcoming.

Photographs taken by Andrew Lee. Project submitted by Atkins Global.

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.

Click 'read more' below to see project drawings.


site by Ana Degenaar