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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).


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.


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