Lowther Children’s Centre was commissioned to replace an aging nursery building and merge with a reception class to form a foundation stage learning facility, and thus free up much needed space within an adjacent main primary school building. Costing £ 1.4 million , the budget also included upgrading and reorganizing the entrance and the administration spaces of the school, installing a biomass boiler to serve the whole school, and creating a series of flexible community facilities that will strengthen the schools existing local community connections and boos service provision in the area.
The centre is composed of a mono-pitched fluid form element clad in white render with a sedum roof. It reads as a distinct building rather than as an extension school to keep a clear distinction between old and new and also to fulfill a desire from The School to create a rite of passage for the children graduating into ‘ Big School’. An interlocking low level intermediary roof and canopy stitches the new children’s centre to the existing building. This lower link piece forms a new welcoming covered entrance into the intermediate space between existing school and the children’s Centre. Continuous wall, floor and ceiling surfaces and textures lead you into the building with a seamless transition between inside and out. The secure line of the building are open to the public.
The single storey children’s centre mimics the composition of the existing building and slopes up towards the south opening views of the external playspace and playing fields beyond, and is enriched with manifestation by the children. The fluid composition of the plan engenders a soft, engaging and deinstitutionalized space. The palette is kept deliberately calm and natural, reinforcing the holistic approach to wellbeing inaugurated by Lowther School. The security screen, playwall, reception desk and lettering combine to form a series of touchstones which guide you through the building adding an extra layer of richness to each of the main spaces.
The main playspace houses the foundation stage unit which is comprised of a nursery and reception class. The two playspaces are in effect one volume which is divided in middle with a bespoke multi-purpose playwall. The playwall, as well as dividing the two playspaces adds much needed further storage capacity and importantly provides a highly flexible role- play resource. Roof lights drop light deep in to the plan and integrate with natural ventilation strategy. Pendant lights reinforce the datum set up by the furniture and bring the scale of the space down to the children’s level. In order to maximize the efficiency of the plan , circulation spaces have been designed so they also offer flexible multi-purpose spaces and separate store room shave been omitted in favor of built in storage located around the perimeter of the space the lower portion of which is made to be accessible by the children. A flexible wraparound care space facing north on to Stilling fleet Road offers provision for a wide variety of uses such child-minder drop-in sessions , adult education and wraparound nursery care. This space shares access to the Children’s WC and the Soft Play/Quiet/Special Needs Room with main playspaces . A sculptural laminated plywood security screen enables the room to be naturally ventilated whilst keeping space secure.
Externally, fence and hedge lines continue the fluid form of the building uniting the landscape and architectural approaches. The floor finish wraps up to create the plinth, grounding the building. The southern external playspace has been designed as an extension of the internal space rather than as an add on. To achieve this, the southern roof cantilevers out southwards creating a covered playspace which mediates against summer solar gain; the ceilings, floor, walls and lighting extend externally and the playwall is also extended out in to the external playspace.