Fantails Childcare Early Learning Centre in Auckland, New Zealand, has been designed by Collingridge And Smith Architects as a sunlight-flushed green structure whose looks have been inspired by both avian and nautical elements.
The Fantails Childcare Early Learning Centre stands in the midst of a stark but verdant landscape in Silverdale, Auckland. This location makes its craft-paper-toy-meets-futuristic-sea-vessel form stand out more than it would have otherwise amongst a crowded concrete thoroughfare.
What may not be immediately apparent though is that this early childhood centre is also a structure stringently committed to environment-friendliness. The centre was designed by Collingridge And Smith Architects (UK) Ltd. (CASA), by a team working on a client brief that asked for ‘a bold architectural statement’.
Talking about its scene-defining shape, “The triangular plan and elevation of the building are abstracted from the form of the fantail, a bird with a striking fanned tail and native to New Zealand; the Childcare is even named after it,” states the team.
This shape was cleverly envisaged and realised to also look like “overlapping sails on a yacht”, a fitting homage to a place bearing the moniker, ‘city of sails’. The tilting shell and the glazed façade of the building are also primed to harvest as much sunlight as is possible in these climes.“Daylight factor is well over 2.5 at all times of the year,” attests the team.
The double-glazed sliding doors, 9×2.4m in dimension and openable, ensure 6 times more natural air circulation than is stipulated as the building code minimum. These twin features ensure comforting warmth during winters, and maximum natural relief during the summer months.
The sweeping floor plan flanked by the glass walls also ensures great and constant communion with the exterior environment, a subtle but critical element that ensures that the children are never boxed-in and have ample space to move about in. The design team, in fact, claims 80% visual connectivity with the outside from all rooms at all times.
The interiors thankfully have broken away from the garish precedent set by countless childcare centres from around the world to boldly let pristine white walls stand guard here. The colour will come from other sources – the toys, the artwork, the learning tools, the clothes, and the children themselves. But just in case help is needed in this regard, there are deep red chairs to provide motivation.
The immense flushes of natural light would make questions about artificial lighting almost redundant. Nevertheless, it has been provided for, in the form of T5 fluorescent battens that are covered by panels that subtly ensure that they are reached for only when absolutely necessary.
LED fixtures dominate the scheme; further lowering energy consumption. The reception holds the main kill switch. The building was built using an array of low-VOC/Environmental Choice (NZ) and/or FSC certified materials which include the sealants and adhesives; the floor finish of bamboo; the carpet; the plasterboard; the paint finishes; and all the sheet timber products.
The bathrooms, too, are green in spirit, with their high-rated WELS tap ware, shower-fittings, and WCs all minimising potable water usage and overall wastage. About half of the steel used in the construction is of the recycled variety.
In spite of the sophisticated, technically-forward modernity of the building, there is a ‘wide-arm-hug’ warmth about Fantails Childcare Early Learning Centre felt right from the entrance.
Aside from being an exemplary green building, it is also a barrier-free space, with all the staff facilities, kitchen, laundry, toilet and shower, and the reception desk being fully accessible to wheelchair-bound and ambulant disabled users with flush thresholds on all doors. This centre sets all the right examples for the generation occupying it.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs By Simon Devitt