The Australian child-care industry is thriving, creating opportunities for centres to invest in designs that enrich the childcare experience and contribute to a better built environment.

What has caused the rise in design quality?

One reason for the increase in design standards of childcare centres is the most recent review of the National Quality Framework (NQF), as regulated by industry body the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority. The new standard was introduced in 2012 and has had several reiterations since. One of the main focus areas for quality has been the physical environment, setting a new benchmark for the design of Australian childcare centres.

Another reason is that the rise in demand for childcare has increased the size of the industry, meaning there is more money available to contract architects for centres. This rise in demand is an outcome of a number of factors, such as:

  • the steady increase in the number of women entering the workforce, which currently sits at around 60 per cent;
  • the increase in the number of families that have both parents working, which is currently 64 per cent of two-parent families; and
  • the Australian Government’s Child Care Rebate (CCR) and Child Care Benefit (CCB) schemes (to be replaced by the Child Care Subsidy [CCS] on July 2, 2018), which further encourage the trend of working parents by reducing the costs of childcare.

The rise in demand for childcare centres means there is steady competition for them and a greater need for them to differentiate themselves from one another. One way to do this is through design.

What is Hames Sharley’s experience with childcare centres?

Hames Sharley has been involved in the design of a number of childcare centres across the country and has been a key player in the industry for the last seven years. The following designs have placed an emphasis on sustainability, innovation and tactility respectively.

Environmentally sustainable design

Completed in 2011, the UWA Early Learning Centre incorporates an environmentally sustainable design with a fun environment in which children can play, learn and explore. One of the building’s aims was to provide a space that coincides with the belief that children learn through play, and that childhood should be filled with fun, wonder and exploration. Notable features of the centre include its single-storey residential character, which relates well to the neighbouring residential area; the inclusion of large, northerly-orientated operable windows that allow for cross-ventilation and maximum natural light; solar pergolas that allow for shaded areas; and zone indicators that provide information on energy consumption and act as an educational tool for children. This building received a five-star equivalent Green Star Rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

Innovative design

On the strength of its ability to produce an innovative design and respond to client needs, Hames Sharley was then approached by the early-learning company Maragon. Located in the Western Australian suburb of Wellard, the Maragon Early Learning Centre accommodates children ranging from 12 weeks of age to five years. Its design is separated into four clusters, consisting of a reception area, discovery centre, a nursery and big babies’ room, as well as toddler rooms. The interiors and outdoor play spaces respond to the proposition that children must be able to learn through the experiences of touching, moving, seeing and hearing. Currently, Hames Sharley’s second centre for Maragon, located in Baldivis, is under construction.

Tactile design

Accommodating up to 72 children from six weeks to school age, the Nido Early Learning Centre in Beeliar opened in 2015. Its distinctive sawtooth roof is designed specifically to allow daylight into each internal play space through the north-facing clerestory windows. Embracing the Reggio Emilia teaching style, the Early Learning Centre houses an arts studio for children to express their creativity. The aim of this is to allow the freedom to experiment and learn through sensory experiences. The centre is also equipped with sensory gardens, mud kitchens, herb and vegetable gardens and a river-creek bed.

What does this mean for the future of the industry?

The industry revenue for childcare is forecast to grow at six per cent per year to reach a total of $15.1 billion over the next five years. This, coupled with new regulations and the need for the differentiated branding of centres, has influenced the desire for better design outcomes. Hames Sharley understands the strict requirements of childcare design and has experience in meeting its clients’ needs whilst simultaneously servicing the needs of the building’s users. With industry growth and the need for better design comes the opportunity for architects to fill in the gaps, and so Hames Sharley has a keen interest in helping shape the industry’s future.

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