Cheltenham Early Education Centre

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  • 2022

  • Architectural

Designed By:

  • Alexandra Kidd Design

Commissioned By:

Sydney Early Education Centre

Designed In:

Australia

An almost century-old former congregational church was transformed into an early education centre for children with the seamless addition of a new adjacent nursery wing. Harnessing our residential expertise, we created an imaginative and stimulating environment with nurturing domestic attributes that above all else encouraged confident, independent growth.


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  • CHALLENGE
  • SOLUTION
  • IMPACT
  • MORE
  • Our main challenge was revitalising the rundown church whilst respecting its rich history, transforming its cavernous, open space into inviting zones for the children to play, make, explore and rest, whilst avoiding the construction of internal walls. Another challenge was its soaring height as we needed to strategically reduce is vast scale without installing false ceilings and concealing the beams. We approached every scale ratio from a child’s eye view. Designing from the ground up, premium grade Birch plywood joinery lines the existing membrane, using its brick datum line to determine its height, in turn cosying the setting.

  • We had to create separate environments for two small learning groups: babies aged 6 weeks to 2.5 years (the nursery) plus preschool children aged 2.5 to 6 years. The children were accommodated in the church given their need for a larger space, yet zoned areas catering to divided age groups and activity purposes were required, so we devised an operable stack partition that can split the room centrally when needed. Within the nursery, we designed curved, moveable custom plywood screens to contain the crawlers when desired. Resolving natural light flow, new skylights line one side of the church roof.

  • The plywood joinery cladding the church walls can be removed with little disruption to the internal membrane given its minimal attachment points (also lining the nursery for continuity). Adding multiple dimensions to the church’s internal periphery, several elements were elevated and built outwards. A free-standing curvilinear stage promoting building self-esteem and listening skills slots into a corner, a climbing wall and ladder welcomes indoor exercise, and a ‘wall of fame’ displays the children’s creative artwork. Pint-sized nooks and hidey-holes infuse both spaces with a sense of adventure. A miniature, functioning kitchen and down-sized dining table offer hands-on learning and interaction.

  • Conscious of joining the old church and new nursery whilst connecting them to their exterior surrounds, an atrium defines the main entrance at their connection point. It flows towards an outdoor meal terrace, enabling ample sunlight to stream within. Wedged between the nursery and new kitchen facilities, we studded the ceiling above the central ramp’s wall with skylights (circular windows dotting its expansive mural wall guide sunlight into the nursery). Approaching the project as we would one of our luxury residential abodes, we employed similar design principles such as custom joinery, quality finishes, sophisticated materials, appropriate scale and layers to create cohesive spaces that both inspire and nurture all who step inside, including staff. For them we built a private lounge/work area and kitchenette above the nursery. Its large window enables direct contact with the surrounding bushland and offers a calming environment to retreat within. Channelling that precious sense of child-like wonder, we incorporated the church’s arched elements throughout. A row of plywood Roman arches line one aisle, instigating a sense of arrival in the newly created hallway and providing areas to hang bags. Others define mirror and joinery shapes, with some rounded and Gothic contours tracing existing brickwork outlines.