A childcare centre shouldn’t just be a place where parents leave their children while they work. It should be an environment where children can learn, develop and, of course, have a little fun along the way.

This was the concept behind East Sydney Early Learning Centre (ESELC), an adaptive re-use of a four-storey 1920’s warehouse building in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst.

Designed by Andrew Burges Architects (ABA) in association with the City of Sydney, the centre takes inspiration from its urban surrounds. While the building has retained its masonry façade, the experience inside has been conceived as a ‘mini-city’. Or, when viewed from a child’s scale, a city proper.


Over the three floors of ESELC, circulation space is conceived as a network of streets and laneways, while gardens and playgrounds are similar to the green spaces found interspersed throughout the real urban world. A sandpit takes place of a central plaza, and yellow pipes stand exposed in the centre’s ceiling.


Rather than a multi-coloured colour scheme typical of traditional childcare centre interiors, ABA opted for a simpler and more sophisticated look, implementing a mix of wood and monochromatic-painted surfaces. This is contrasted with a signage and wayfinding system – a creative spin on street signs – developed by graphic design studio, Toko.


A multipurpose community space, equipped with a kitchen, is located on the building’s fourth floor.

In addition to the playful interior, the project involved a number of redevelopments around the adjacent Berwick Lane and Birt Memorial playground. An initial brief asked for Berwick Lane to be closed, creating a unified link to the playground across the lane. Instead, it remained open and was embellished with a new sandstone stair, and a tree house bridge above the laneway that connected building to playground. The playground itself was renewed with an elevated platform that links to the bridge, along with new bathroom and storage facilities, and landscaping and fencing.


Recently, ESELC received an award for educational architecture and a commendation for interior architecture at the 2017 NSW Architecture Awards.

“The conceptual framework for this project initiates inquisitive, youthful minds to the complexities of urbanism and joys of spatial modulation,” noted the jury.

“It employs a scale-shift to produce a city within a building, in which a series of nested and open-ended spaces allow for different types of play – both communal and singular.” 

The centre was also recently shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival (WAF) Awards in the Schools category.