Prayers are answered for a church kindergarten that used to be packed to the rafters, Stephen Crafti writes.
Toddlers at St Augustine's Anglican Kindergarten in Mont Albert North had outgrown their makeshift classroom, originally conceived as a tennis pavilion.
Every centimetre of the walls was plastered with paintings. Even the steel rafters were used to display paper chains and mobiles. However, while the space was visually overloaded, there was no storage or additional room for the 40-plus children.
While the 1960s pavilion, with bathroom and kitchen, was structurally sound, there was also no connection to the playground. And the small courtyard linking pavilion and church hall was used more for storage than recreation. A shade cloth provided minimal protection from the sun.
"The courtyard was underutilised and the pavilion bursting at the seams," says architect Andrew Wilson, director of Wilson Architecture.
As Wilson was keen to retain as much of the playground as possible, located to the north of the site, it became apparent to infill the courtyard with a new building. And as there is a change of level between the church hall and tennis pavilion, the architects raised the "bridge-like" wing almost one metre above ground level. This not only increased light and ventilation, but allowed the architects to provide additional storage below the floor.
"It was an extremely tight deadline and we worked with a fairly modest budget," says Wilson, who was keen to integrate as many of the existing amenities as possible.
"I was conscious of focusing on areas that would benefit children rather than making a grand architectural statement."
The lightweight warehouse-style structure, made from timber and glass, includes a bank of north-facing windows. A lightweight roof, lined with sandwich panels, has a generous open-plan feel. Exposed timber trusses and linoleum floors provide a simple backdrop.
"We were mindful of providing generous storage areas. Our clients never complain that we've given them too much storage," says Wilson.
Pivotal to the kindergarten's design is the storage module, towards the rear of the addition. Made from medium-density fibreboard, this unit has been detailed with a continuous line of holes or dots. Used as door pulls, each aperture has been coloured in the hues of a rainbow.
"I was inspired by artist Paul Klee, who was inspired by children's art. He would sometimes use the term of 'taking a line for a walk'," says Wilson, whose line of dots continues around this storage unit. "We were also keen to integrate colour after seeing the plastic paint bottles lined up on the racks."
Wilson also used the storage unit to conceal an office and bathroom, as well as providing a nook for the airconditioning unit. And to link this area to the existing buildings on either side, one being the old classroom and the other the church hall, a series of openings were made in the adjoining walls. This increases the natural light, as well as providing more fluid and connected spaces.
"It was crucial to improve access to the buildings, rather than creating endless doorways that small children find difficult to manoeuvre," says Wilson.
Although the new addition is a small project for the practice, it was delivered from a child's perspective, as much as an architect's vision. "When you're designing spaces for small children, scale is everything."