Award-winning childcare centre in Auckland raises the benchmark
Forget any preconceived ideas you may have about a modern-day childcare centre.
The Chrysalis Early Learning Centre in Avondale, Auckland, designed by Collingridge and Smith Architects and built by Keola, shows just how much has changed.
The eco-friendly centre, which has just won a gold award for Keola at the New Zealand Commercial Projects Awards, is a head-turning, crescent-shaped building that wraps around two protected trees to create a giant cocoon, or chrysalis.
Owner Darius Singh says he wanted "parents, families and children to walk through every corridor, walk around the playground and just say wow".
"We were between a bit of a rock and a hard place, with heritage trees on one side and yet we had to design a centre that could fit in 150 children."
Architect Phil Smith says his vision for the build was to take this chrysalis idea and to interpret that into a built form.
"The shape was derived from the trees, and we tried to respect these and put in a protective barrier, which then became the playground. The building just naturally wrapped around the playground. Everything was about this layering process."
The building has 31 gridlines radiating from the crescent shape, with 100 "sails" on the exterior. Symbolically, the sails can be seen to reference the children's journey, and they create a link to the Pacific-Kiwi culture – the past and the vision for the future.
"As you walk through the building you will get a whole series of transformations that will lead you through from one side to another," says the architect. "That feeds through into the idea that the kids transform as they come through from the age of one to five."
Classrooms are large and open, with floor-to-ceiling structures enhancing the cocoon analogy. Indoor-outdoor flow is continuous, with adjustable glass doors opening onto the play area. This features an ever-changing maze and a natural palette of materials. There is also extensive native planting, an edible garden and fruit orchard.
"It's not just about a showy building, however," says Singh. "The inventions flow right through to the curriculum and the actual learning that happens here."
And then there are the trees, which create the ultimate playground, with a fort-like structure around their base. Singh says the 100 year-old English oak and native pohutukawa standing side by side with their branches touching provide the perfect metaphor for the multicultural centre.
Eco-friendly features include solar power and a rainwater recycling tank that will save tens of thousands of litres of water annually.
Smith says one of the key construction challenges for Keola involved the multifaceted exterior curves. "Getting a beam to go around the outside of the building, dropping in every direction, was really awkward. We came to the site and the guys had basically, just built it and it was stunning."