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    The architect and child’s dream: new Sydney family centre features futuristic ‘pure play’ environment

    NSW

    A new family centre in Alexandria, Sydney, has officially opened its doors, showing Australia for the first time what a ‘pure play’ children’s space looks like.

    Built around best practices for early childhood education through the lens of play, exploration and connection, NUBO steers away from the typical clichés of bright colours, plastic toys and computer screens. Instead, the centre looks more like a Scandinavian home or a tech company’s headquarters, with clean and considered spaces that feel almost clinical. 

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    A second glance will show you the obvious – that this is a place for kids. A library is weaved around a giant hot air balloon where children can curl up to read their favourite book; there is a building room full of MagFormers, Kaleido Gears and Big Blue Blocks; and a giant climbing frame dominates a zone set aside for active play. Yet the simplicity of the centre remains its point of difference, a design decision that works to allow kids to focus on their activity, play or learning without too many other distractions. 

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    “The main objective of the space was learning through play with self-directed and initiated activities available,” Environments Design Director at Urbanite, Maria Briganti, explains. “However the space does this differently from other play centres. NUBO maintains a clean, calm quality through a beautiful and clever minimal aesthetic and palette.”

    This ‘floating’, other-worldly quality of the design is anchored in the name of the centre, NUBO, which means ‘cloud’ in Esperanto, a language invented in the late 1870s to foster harmony between people from different countries.

    “The idea of cloud gazing conjures up unique and different things for different people,” Ant Donovan, Group Creative Director at Frost Collective, says. “This singular idea – of exercising the imagination – informed the architectural design.”

    And so the design works towards encouraging creative growth, both for children and their families. A three-storey height play tower by Corocord has been integrated into an indoor space to create a safe, cozy and weatherproof playground. In the ‘Imagination Playground’, the Big Blue Blocks aren’t just props for children to play with, but is also used as the wall covering.

    Meanwhile, balloon shaped lights from Brokis’ memory collection generates a party atmosphere in the NUBO café, which emphasises the importance of healthy, wholesome food made fresh to order. 

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    According to Urbanite, a main design challenge was the nature of their ‘target audience’, mostly pre-school aged children who would not be able to read. As a result, a system of wayfinding and identification that would allow a child to independently navigate the centre had to be implemented.

    The team designed a system of symbols, abstract and realistic, that could be interpreted or related to by a child in their own way. Fitting this system into the design aesthetics, the end result are illuminated timber discs located at the average sight line for a three to five year old.

    Another layer to the wayfinding and signages are one-syllable adjectives scattered throughout the centre that describe the actions taking place in the adjacent spaces. These words would also lead children to learn or identify words as they begin to learn to read. 

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    Creating a safe environment where kids of all ages could participate was another priority for the designers, especially when the focus is to integrate play into the play structures as well as the activities they facilitate.

    As a result, in addition to customised furniture with fairy tale-like clichés, and a neutral palette of white and wood, which creates a sense of homeliness, building products suitable for children in various stages of learning, such as the extensive safety vinyl floor coverings and rubber floors, were chosen. Timber is further used to create a sense of homeliness, and all materials were selected for their cost effectiveness and ease of maintenance. 

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    Featuring spaces that are defined by different floor levels instead of walls, NUBO is a breath of fresh air in an over-stimulated world.

    “Seeing kids play at NUBO, I witnessed a genuine and honest delight indicating that if children have the opportunity to interact with quality spaces their interactions can be incredibly valuable,” Ant Donovan, Group Creative Director at Frost Collective, concludes. 

    PRODUCTS

    FLOORING
    FORBO FLOORING, SURESTEP ORIGINAL
    SYNTHETIC GRASS AND RUBBER SURFACES

    SYMBOL SIGNAGE
    DISCS WITH LED ILLUMINATED GRAPHIC BEHIND TIMBER VENEER

    ADJECTIVE SIGNAGE
    LAZERCUT WHITE GLOSS ACRYLIC

    CLOUD FORMS
    MATTE WHITE ACRYLIC, ILLUMINATED AND NON-ILLUMINATED

    WALL APPLIED GRAPHICS
    GRADIENT WALL PAPER – PRINTED VINYL APPLIED DIRECTLY TO WALL

    LIGHTS
    BROKIS, MEMORY COLLECTION 

    Key Info

    Architect: PAL Design Consultants

    Brand Agency: Frost Collective – Frost (design), Urbanite (branded environment), The Nest (digital)

    Completed: March 2017

    Gross Floor Area: 768sqm floor space

    Words: Geraldine Chua

    Photography: Mike Perry / Amy Piddington

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