Sure Start, Rosehill is a lively, colourful, nursery and community centre, wrapped around a south facing garden creating an oasis of calm for young children in a fairly busy and cosmopolitan area of Derby. ‘The Big Building’ was the winning entry when local school children were invited to choose a name.
The Big Building is designed around passive solar principles. It has highly insulated north facing walls with very few openings to minimize heat loss through the vulnerable fabric. South facing elevations are glazed and the office and nursery accommodation looks onto the south facing garden through a two-story atrium space. This passively heats the building. Heat gain is controlled by automatically opening and closing louvres to the patent glazing, which are also fitted with rain sensors. The building is designed to be entirely naturally ventilated with a free flow of air throughout the building.
Solar thermal cells to the roof supplement the hot water heating system. The building has a glulam timber frame structure that is exposed throughout. External walls to the northern elevation are block and brightly coloured render.
Rainwater is recycled and used for washing machines, for flushing the w.c's and for an outside water supply to the garden.
A focal point in the garden is our ‘solar tree’. The ‘tree’ supports photo-voltaic panels which will be used to charge batteries for an electric mini-bus, and will encourage children to think about sustainable design.
The garden is made secure by a stunning stainless steel ‘crinkle–crankle’ fence that incorporates seats and insects, which was designed by the sculptor Dennis O’Connor.
The nursery garden is bounded by a busy road, a high wall and an electricity substation!
We created a series of introspective spaces deeply buried amongst plants. Each space facilitates an aspect of the national curriculum for outdoor play. So, for example, there is an ‘amphitheatre’ for drama, assembly and special occasions, large enough to seat everyone. By contrast a much smaller and more introspective space is created by wrapping a small seat around the trunk of a pear tree where one-to-one reading can take place.
We organised a workshop at Peartree Infants School, Derby with foundation children and staff. Ninety children were involved in the workshop, the aim of which was to create a huge amphitheatre using bean poles. The children built the structure sharing tasks of filling buckets, planting beans and securing canes.
The school playground was a grim expanse of tarmac edged on one side by an elevated section of the six-lane Nottingham ring road.
We set up an ‘office’ in the school hall using rolls of corrugated cardboard to create walls, and spent a day with all of the staff and children thinking about what could be done. At the end of the day we had a list of over thirty activities the playground needed to facilitate. A common theme was a need for peace and quiet, animals and plants.
We created a huge ‘living’ tunnel with climbing plants forming the side and roof. A sound system plays birdsong. Within this space the whole school can meet for lunches and events, and parents can wait and socialise.
Smaller gardens lead out from the tunnel creating opportunities for smaller groups to enjoy structural outdoor activities such as dance, drama, reading and role play.
This was an immensely rewarding project, especially so as the staff have told us that it has transformed school-life by turning a liability and an eye-sore into an asset and resource.
The head teacher was working from a cupboard when we first visited the school! An extension had been ruled out as too expensive and unlikely to gain approval as the building was grade II listed.
We suggested creating a gallery in the hall which could serve as an office, but would also create useful space below, for smaller group work with a different ambience to the feel of the main open hall.
There was barely room to accommodate the gallery so the depth of the structure was critical. The solution we developed was to create built in desk and storage space to the front and back of the galley which acted as a lattice truss and avoided the need for any additional structure.
This approach also meant that the connection to the listed building was minimal - a series of stainless steel bolts and this overcame the concerns of the conservation officer. The gallery was designed as a series of timber sections, all bolted together, which could be manufactured off site in a joinery workshop. This meant we were able to complete the work on site during the school holidays with no disruption to the children’s use of their hall.
We enjoy working on community projects and have been involved in many. These include our Sure Start children’s centre in Derby, for which we received many awards, along with school playgrounds and work in community parks.
We have also facilitated construction workshops in schools and have helped local councils with access projects.
So-called by the children, ‘The Clubhouse’ was built with a great deal of help from Gordon Constable and Tony Coates of GC Construction. The children saw the building as it was being constructed, and have been playing at ‘builders’ ever since.