A look at the childcare centres of the future

Award-winning Japanese childcare centre architect Takaharu Tezuka wants to impart a pearl of wisdom to children who play in the buildings he designs: life’s not easy, kids.
Mr Tezuka’s design philosophy involves creating “small inconveniences” for children, such as inclined surfaces, which he believes helps to prepare children for the challenges of the real world.

“These small difficulties are representative of the world outside the childcare centre, thereby helping prepare them as they grow,” Mr Tezuka said.

The Little Lane childcare centre in Fishermans Bend will accommodate 380 children and 100 staff when it opens in 2021.  Supplied

Mr Tezuka’s latest creation, a $100 million childcare centre in Melbourne’s Fishermans Bend called Emerald Place, has been designed with intentionally challenging outdoor play areas, a fruit orchard, a creek and a pool for swimming lessons.

“Through the design of Emerald Place, we are intentionally taking children out of their comfort zones and creating obstacles and challenges that will aid their learning and development,” Mr Tezuka said.

Mr Tezuka has collaborated with Australian architect Steve Milton to add a local twist to the space.

The 9500-square-metre site was originally approved for more than 1000 apartments across four 30-storey towers when Little Lane Early Learning bought the site at 8 Buckhurst Street, South Melbourne, for $61.8 million in 2017.

“We’ve been searching for a site like this in the city for a while, probably a few years. We liked the site and we knew it was expensive but we were very determined to make it work,” said Little Lane co-founder Mike Wu.

Construction will begin in January, with plans to open in 2021. The centre will accommodate 380 children and 100 staff, offering double the amount of space per child required under planning laws.

Adding in other costs associated with the purchase and plans to spend an extra $30 million on building and operations costs at Emerald Place, Mr Wu estimated a total of $100 million would be spent on the development.

A play for parents

Little Lane co-founder Shan Kuo said the childcare facility would not just be reliant on families moving to the developing Fishermans Bend area. She said she foresaw parents from all over Melbourne who worked in the city flocking to the childcare centre.

“It just makes sense to have children in a facility near where they work if they’re working in an inner-city area,” Ms Kuo said.

The Little Lane founders own 17 centres nationally and plan to open two more by the end of the year.

Ms Kuo said a similar pattern appeared when Little Lane opened a centre in Brisbane.

“To start with it was a bit of challenge but once we got a reputation, people started coming from all over Brisbane,” she said.

In September the childcare power couple announced they planned to raise $150 million in a sale-and-leaseback deal by selling seven of their other centres.

Mr Wu said they had received “a couple” of offers but could not comment further.

The Australian Financial Review

14th November 2019

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