Sustainable communities in sustainable buildings

28 Oct 2011

Colourful shipping containers give children's adventure playground a new lease of life

The Venny is a free communal backyard and playspace for children aged 5 to 16 years old, located in inner city park in Melbourne, Australia. Completed in September 2010, the new facility replaces an older structure that had been the Venny 'clubhouse' for 30 years; required to be demolished due to OH&S regulations.

After 30 years, the patina the community had embedded into the old 'Venny' meant the new building was at risk of being sterile. Fortunately, through the use of colour, art and effective architecture, the new building has become even more loved, delivering a 300% increase in patronage and enabled the children and staff to feel at home in a new facility that echoes the memories of the old place.

The new facility utilises five recycled 20-ft shipping containers, is entirely covered with a living green roof and incorporates a 100m2 community 'art floor'. The underlying philosophy for the design was to create a facility that is joyous and playful, whilst delivering a building that is highly functional, robust enough to handle a thousand children a week and an educational exemplar of sustainable design.

The colourful exterior and bold form signifies that something exciting happens here… Over 100 children were engaged to create the art floor under guidance from artists, architects and contractors; an example of how design can aid social sustainability, strengthen a community and go beyond simply meeting the client's brief.

The embedded artworks, set within a highly colourful solvent-free resin, read like a scrapbook that reveals new stories on each visit. The building is located such that it creates a controlled gateway into the playspace and is orientated to face due north, maximising passive solar design benefits; natural daylighting to every space.

Combined with very high thermal insulation values, high thermal inertia - thermal mass and phase change plasterboard – and passive night purge cooling, the building does not require air conditioning, even in the Australian summer. The facility is designed for low staff numbers and planning efficiencies allow surveillance of the building and playspace from within the office.

The shipping containers not only serve as the primary structure but also form a contextual relationship with Melbourne's working dock, which is visible from the playspace and act as discrete functional modules for cooking, storage, administration, amenities and recreation. They are arranged around the column-free, multi-purpose activity space, much like buildings are arranged around a piazza, which gives the central activity space a feeling of community and sanctuary.

Each module can be closed off, giving staff the flexibility to isolate areas as required, and has been coloured a bold primary or secondary colour, which aids in operational communication and gives the children a feeling of playing inside a giant Lego brick.

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