The UOW Early Start Discovery Space was a rare opportunity for us as the architects to not only design, document and build an innovative $45m education research facility but also to work closely with a team of research academics to develop a range of interactive playspace experiences. In the same week as we were detailing parts of the building layout and structure we would be devising strategies to encourage young children to crawl through an ‘inflated tummy’ to experience the wonders of the digestive system complete with a ‘fart’ as they emerged at the end.
The University of Wollongong (UOW) Early Start Discovery Space has been highly commended in the Kidsafe 2016 National Playspace Design Awards.
The Early Start Facility researches the importance of the early years of childhood development. The building includes teaching spaces, specialist research facilities, consultation suites, resource rooms, postgraduate workspace and, at its centre, a 2000m2 Children’s Discovery Space featuring an adaptable ship, a market place, a ‘build it’ site, interactive spatial hub, performance areas … and much more.
Many of the activity areas in the building look into the two-storey atrium of the Discovery Space with its overhead bridges and mezzanines that integrate the space with the rest of the building. The Discovery Space includes an external play courtyard featuring a living green shade wall and a kitchen garden. There is also a quarry and a creek with water play activities, a sonic bench and other musical sound sculptures.
The design of the space was a collaborative process that included theatrical set designers, branding consultants as well as specialist lighting, communications and acoustic experts. We would meet fortnightly with a working group comprised of key University stakeholders to consider the functional requirements and find solutions that would guide the interior fitout design.
Our interiors design team, led by Rene Ling, prepared a 3D model of the space so that a range of ideas and opportunities could be explored and tested. We advised and assisted negotiations in relation to cost planning, programming, and administering specialist fitout contracts. Although not without its challenges, the project was a lot of fun in providing a workable, flexible interior framework of services, joinery, finishes and structures to support the interactive play experiences.
Our involvement in the Early Start Discovery Space was particularly rewarding as it extended from project inception through to the post occupation evaluation. All in all, it was an exciting opportunity to contribute to the amazing world of learning and discovery.