Camperdown Childcare Center
By Jennifer McMaster
Designed by Australian studio CO-AP, Camperdown Childcare Center is located down an unassuming back street in Sydney’s inner-west. Sheltered within a former warehouse, the center exemplifies the delight that can be found from adapting older structures for new programs and purposes.
The immediate urban context of Camperdown Childcare Center is a jumble of uses, with an industrial mixture of new apartments and working factories lining the streets. Yet, a few blocks away, the suburb takes on a more human scale defined by parks and charming, miniature homes.
It is this mixed, eclectic neighbourhood character that is mimicked in CO-AP’s childcare center. The building diagram contains two key elements. The first is an indoor ‘street,’ which serves as a long, continuous play space along one warehouse wall. This space is then bordered by a series of classrooms. Much like houses surrounding an urban square, these rooms vary in height and presence, and lend the whole configuration a village-like character.
Walking inside the Camperdown Childcare Center, the affect is entirely unexpected. Rusted, exposed trusses soar above the interior architecture below. The ceiling has been carefully peeled back to allow natural light into the space, while the central play space, containing a sandpit and trees, is left open to the elements. These gestures bring light, fresh air and a shifting atmosphere to the space, allowing it to breathe.
The classrooms, meanwhile, are more insulated and contained. These are spaces for small, informal lessons, for naps and indoor play. They are lit by borrowed light, which comes through glazed walls and a series of bold, expressive skylights.
In line with contemporary childcare practices, the architecture facilitates a high degree of flexibility and choice. This mainly occurs in the open, soft-fall landscape, which undulates in small hills and valleys. Their programming is loose, with spaces shifting from water play in one corner to mud kitchens in another. It’s messy, chaotic and made for adventures.
Yet amidst this chaos, the architecture maintains an underlying order. The new buildings are modularized, bringing unity and economy to the overall spatial composition. This system also allowed the construction and fit out to be completed within a twelve-week period.
The details across CO-AP’s project are playful without becoming twee. Brightly painted doors are split into two, with one at adult height, and one for a child. The openings swing back 180 degrees on parliament hinges, like miniature stable doors. Elsewhere, small, circular punctures provide portals at a child’s eye height.
These sorts of gestures are common throughout Camperdown Childcare Center, and are a direct consequence of the close collaboration between the architect and client. Many of the design decisions balance an architectural intent with an educational one. A primary example comes in the form of sandstone blocks, which are scattered throughout the space. These bumpy, uneven surfaces are intended to teach children about balance, risk evaluation and resilience. They also form an intentional contrast to their increasingly smooth and seamless urban world.
CO-AP’s Camperdown Childcare Center is a delicately composed and layered project. By inserting an unexpected architecture into an industrial envelope, it distinguishes itself from typical institutionalised childcare buildings. It’s a delightful space that brings calm and joy to those who work, learn and play there.