New ECEC offers a wider object lesson

 A nature-centric early learning education centre design that interweaves environment and classroom also offers a stand-out lesson in sustainability

Designed by Barry Copeland and Marco Duthie, Copeland Associates Architects

From the architects:

New Shoots ECEC Greenhithe – the project

Our client New Shoots saw an opportunity in a site which many others had thought was unusable.

Originally, the site was split into two areas by a stream and had become an abandoned and neglected wasteland that stored and collected motorway run-off.

The site was overgrown and an eyesore in an otherwise attractive neighbourhood.

Our brief was to rejuvenate the site by creating a nature-centric design that interweaves environment and classroom, while achieving New Shoots’ programmatic requirements and integrating sustainable practices.

Designs that give a sense of calmness while inviting curiosity through a sensory experience have been proven to provide a powerful platform for growth and learning. These elements were at the forefront of the design approach and explored through materials, form, scale, and layout.

Upon arrival, children walk along an elevated timber bridge over the native plants and rejuvenated wetland and immediately experience a sense of adventure and exploration.

Looking around sparks the imagination and fosters a feeling of leaving the everyday and entering a unique world. 

The pods are arranged to form a triangular courtyard. This play area is partially protected by a generous translucent veranda, providing diffused light over external links between pods.

The roof forms elevate to the east, allowing the morning light to energise the childrens’ activity spaces.

High-level electrically operated windows provide passive ventilation for natural airflow throughout the day.

Rainwater is stored in detention tanks and re-used for flushing toilets and irrigation.

Superstructures are an assembly of cross-laminated timber panels and steel frames; both systems were prefabricated off-site and quickly erected on site.

Services are discretely organised within each building giving careful thought and consideration to respect the nature of the solid timber construction.

Each of the three passively controlled pods has its own colour palette reflecting the world’s primary elements: 

Building A: Toddlers (age 2-3) & staff

Nature: Green (Spanish Green and Cabbage Pont)

Building B: Infants (age 0-2)

Earth: Light Terracotta (Baroque and Sante Fe)

Building C: Preschool (age 3-5)

Water: Blue (Half Dusted Blue and Navada)

Each building's interior has a soft timber backdrop from the exposed structural cross-laminated timber panels.

This adds another textural link connecting to the surrounding environment.

Large sections of glazing enhance the site’s elevation, bringing the outside in, and creating a sense of being amongst the trees.

There is a harmonised visual language between architecture, interiors and furniture. This creates a flow of design continuity and wayfinding within the centre.

New Shoots themselves designed bespoke cabinetry to suit interior spaces and respective palettes, reinforcing this flow.

We worked closely with lighting designers to conceive a lighting approach that creatively weaves throughout the spaces, giving soft, curvaceous elements to the orthogonal internal walls.

Sustainability plus and the thinking behind it

How consideration of sustainability informed the design

Recognising significant effort required to rehabilitate this difficult site and accommodate structures, initial studies focussed on developing a ‘best-fit’ building footprint closely influenced by contours and obstructions. 

A triangular grouping of simple rectangular pavilions was adopted that minimises earthworks and foundations costs.   

The imperative to bring energising morning sunshine into children’s activity spaces determined roof shape, with high-level east-facing electrically-operated windows providing both good daylight and fresh air.  

At ground level, placement of doors and windows optimises natural light and cross-ventilation.

The insulated slabs act as thermal heatsinks, retaining solar energy, and provide the polished concrete floor finish favoured by the brief.

Generous translucent veranda canopies provide rain and sun protection, creating comfortable indoor-outdoor play-spaces underneath for the children.

How consideration of sustainability informed selection of materials

Minimal carbon footprint is inherent with timber as primary building material. 

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) wall and roof panels are both structure and internal finish.

External cladding is also timber. 

In foundations and retaining structures, timber poles and mechanically stabilised earth (MSE) decrease concrete use. 

Timber and steel components are dismantlable and recyclable at end-of-building life.  

Environmental choice/eco-label products to improve indoor air quality for growing children include zero ODP insulation and low VOC and formaldehyde products. 

Emissions are minimised by using Low GHG all-electric high-efficiency commercial grade air source heat pump heating in winter with zero-ozone depleting refrigerants. 

To reduce energy losses, the building envelope has external rigid insulation detailed to minimise cold bridging.  Windows and doors are double glazed. 

How consideration of sustainability informed construction method

Sustainability of construction moved hand in hand with economic factors.  

Deciding to separate car parking clear from buildings streamlined the construction programme. 

Excavated materials from the buildings site were used as fill for the car park, where slow MSE-retaining construction was adopted, saving cost and carbon.

Each of the three separate buildings had foundations specific to its own location on the undulating site. 

Each took shape sequentially, enabling efficiencies in the small locally based workforce and frugal use of mechanical equipment. 

Use of prefinished prefabricated components significantly reduced the amount of construction materials, time and waste once the floor slabs were completed.

Significant lead time needed for design and fabrication of the prefabricated elements dovetailed with the foundations period.

How consideration of sustainability informed operating systems

A range of sensible and affordable environmental features have been included to minimise energy use and improve environmental quality: 

  • Optimised levels of thermal insulation to balance wintertime heating and summertime cooling energy demands – Framed Walls: R2.6. Roof: R3.5.
  • Heat pump heating and cooling. Natural ventilation with a range of opening window provisions, including trickle vents, manually controllable louvred vertical windows, sliding doors.
  • Mechanical supply ventilation to the sleeping areas.
  • Low energy LED lighting and good levels of natural light through perimeter glazing.
  • Occupancy control of lighting in transient areas.
  • Low flow water fixtures.  Use of local rainwater tank and rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing and irrigation/hose taps.

Embodied carbon assessments and information

The project required 105m³ of XLam CLT manufactured from Radiata Pine. 

The manufacturer’s EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) specific cradle-to-grave supply chain calculation reports that this equates to circa 28.3t sequestered CO2 at the site, taking into account the freight carbon footprint. 

Foundation and other timber will add to this embodied carbon, and this will significantly offset the negative carbon contributed by construction steel and concrete. 

It is thought that the building will be close to carbon neutral. However, a complete net carbon assessment has not been possible due to lack of comprehensive data. 

Take a look around the sustainable ECEC. Videographer: amanda@aaphotography.co.nz

Credit list

New Shoots ECEC Greenhithe
Main contractor
Peak Construction
Landscape designers
Onestone Landscapes and Taylor Creative Construction
4sight consulting
Project managers
Civil engineers
Chester Engineering
Fire engineer
6 Rib Dimond roofing
Windows and doors access systems
Megafloor polished concrete; Godfrey Hirst, Mohawk, broadloom carpet
Interior and furniture designer
New Shoots
MEP services
eCubed Building Workshop
Lighting designers and fixtures
Enhance Light
Structural engineers
Calibre Consulting Limited
Quantity surveyors
Kwanto Surveyors
Geotechnical engineers
KGA Geotechnical Engineers
Hermpac vertical cedar cladding
Windows and doors
Timber cross laminated panels
Tables and chairs
Furniture by New shoots and manufactured by Starex

Designed by: Barry Copeland and Marco Duthie, Copeland Associates Architects

Story by: Trendsideas

Photography by: Kelvin Lim

22 Aug, 2021

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