Delve Architects designs a nurturing, home-from-home nursery in East London

London practice Delve Architects has used joyful colours and natural, tactile materials to create a new nursery by the River Thames in East London’s Royal Wharf district.

“We wanted to create a calm, nurturing but playful space that reflected the values of the nursery client. Their ethos is for children to have a positive learning experience, through a healthy relationship with the environment around them and a connection to the outdoors,” Alex Raher of Delve Architects told Dezeen.

Occupying a commercial unit at the base of a 19-storey residential building, The Nest nursery is part of a wider development of the area.

To boost the internal floor space, Delve installed a new mezzanine with a bespoke, powder-coated metal stair that rises through a double-height space which is defined by a series of arched timber fins.

These maple-veneered arches – each around 4.5m tall – were conceived by Delve to fulfil multiple functions. They work primarily to subdivide the space, creating zones without physical barriers.

“We wanted to connect the spaces visually and physically between the mezzanine and lower level, and to soften the hardened edges of the space,” said Raher.

The arches form a series of fins that merge, as they approach the ground level, into benches and individual seating.

“The grand scale of the arches for a small child could feel overwhelming, so we brought this down into child-height seating, benches and joinery to play with the scale and make it more familiar to them. The material flows seamlessly between the two levels and creates a natural material palette that the children could recognise and read through different heights and spaces,” said Raher.

The main staircase was designed to feel like a sculptural element that forges another aesthetic and literal link between the two levels of the nursery.

“We wanted it to be a centrepiece that was exciting, functional and exploratory – almost like a meandering joinery up to a ‘tree house’ style level on the mezzanine, through a network of arches and branches on the way.

“One of the first concepts we explored was the treehouse idea, developing ideas around the nursery name ‘The Nest’ and how we could bring a playful part of nature into the design.”

Given its inner-city location, the nursery is fortunate to have a large garden overlooking the riverfront, which is connected to the nursery via a double set of six bi-folding doors. The external fencing was designed by Delve, ”to merge with the rhythm of the existing tower’s balconies, powder-coated in a matching colour and alternating ‘ribbon fin’ detail.”

“We wanted to celebrate the connection to the outside space, the riverfront location and the child-height views from the mezzanine to the water, as it was unique to the space and to the nursery setting.

“Children can arrive and parents can commute using the river boat directly outside the nursery. The new pier designed by Nex Architecture is a beautiful backdrop to the site,” said Raher.

To cope with the demands of a nursery setting, materials and finishes – including recycled and recyclable Marmoleum flooring, maple-veneered joinery and low VOC paints – are durable and resilient as well as being natural, sustainable and tactile.

A colour palette of soft muted shades helps to create a homely atmosphere for this nursery setting. “This palette works better than bolder primary colours – as these create too much ’visual noise’ for younger children.”

A panel of dark teal blue creates a datum line around the walls. “It was chosen to be more resilient to little fingers and also created a colour contrast at a child’s eye height, to make the tall spaces seem more relatable to a child’s scale. We always try to design from a child’s perspective, putting ourselves at that level, quite literally in some cases.”

The soft blue of the flooring is a good tonal match for maple veneer and the matt pink which wraps around the ceiling and upper walls, helping to put the internal volume on a more human scale.

“It both draws your eye upwards, but also manages to change the scale of the space. In some areas there is a five-metre ceiling height, so we wanted to break this up visually,” said Raher.

“The services for heating, cooling and ventilation were also left exposed – giving a little insight for children to explore and imagine what they could be – a network of intriguing forms and geometry running through the nursery.”


The photography is by Fred Howarth

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