Award-winning childcare centre in Auckland raises the benchmark gallery

Chrysalis Early Learning Centre in Avondale was designed to wrap around two protected 100-year-old trees on the site - a native pohutukawa and an English oak tree.

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.

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The Chrysalis Early Learning Centre in Avondale is a crescent-shaped building that provides a cocoon-like learning environment for pre-schoolers.

The cocooning shape can be seen from above - the centre wraps around two protected 100-year-old trees on the site - a native pohutukawa and an English oak tree.

The curved exterior incorporates 100 sails.

A large overhang shades the terrace on hot summer days. The trees also provide plenty of shade.

Natural materials feature throughout the centre, both indoors and out.

A fort-like structure wraps around the base of the pohutukawa tree.

Pathways include timber boardwalks.

Children can get right up close to the giant branches of the pohutukawa tree.

Large sliding doors open up the entire interior to the outdoors.

Pacific influences determined the design of these shade structures.

Curving pathways, expansive grass areas and a sand pit also provide plenty of variety for children's play.

Tree stump seats are reminiscent of a fairy circle.

The curved reception desk echoes the form of the exterior.

Furniture is mobile so there is ample flexibility to change it as required.

Colourful lighting enlivens this corridor.

To help soothe tired children, stars and a globe are projected onto the ceiling and walls of the sleeping room.

A full equipped, state-of-the-art kitchen is designed to cater for a full house.

Colourful toys and furniture are interspersed with natural wood pieces.

Classrooms are bright, airy and spacious.

Each classroom provides quiet areas where the children can read or work on their own.

The chrysalis metaphor extends to the interior - this classroom features a cocoon-shaped reading room.

Large cushions add a fun element to the giant cocoon.

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Owner Darius Singh says he wanted "parents, families and children to walk through every corridor, walk around the playground and just say wow".

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Natural materials feature throughout the centre, both indoors and out.
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Natural materials feature throughout the centre, both indoors and out.

"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 chrysalis metaphor extends to the interior - this classroom features a cocoon-shaped reading room.
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The chrysalis metaphor extends to the interior - this classroom features a cocoon-shaped reading room.

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.

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"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."

 - Stuff

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