Rooftop Nursery | icon 036 | June 2006

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words Daniel West

A rooftop nursery has been designed by London-based practice What Architecture. Built as part of the UK’s Neighbourhood Nurseries Initiative, the centre aims to provide affordable pre-school care for working mothers in the low-income neighbourhood of Clapton, east London.

To make the most of a confined site, the architects turned the roof into a play space. And as the budget was also limited, they used the cheapest materials available: the structure is made of concrete breezeblocks and the kitchen is from Ikea.

A lack of fixed internal walls further reduced costs. Sliding partitions and floor-to-ceiling curtains divide the interior into 50 potential configurations. And instead of using expensive cladding, the architects simply painted the building. The bright colour-scheme was chosen by local residents and nursery staff, and then digitally sampled from local foliage. “Kids aren’t interested in white walls and shadow gaps,” comments What Architecture’s Anthony Hoete.

Clapton's impoverishment was underlined by the fact that the best point from which to survey the site was an adjacent six-storey crack den. “There were people passed out on the floor; you had to watch they didn’t jump at you with needles,” Hoete recalls. Despite this, the practice enjoyed the aesthetic freedom that the area provided. “Unlike Kensington, there weren’t any heritage issues,” Hoete says. “Instead, there was a genuine belief that design can improve social problems.”

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