Murray Road Preston Childcare

Developed as an exemplar of the Montessori method of education, the Murray Road Preston Childcare Centre was designed by Co-Lab Architecture to foster independence in children.

The centre facilitates this aim through implementing self-directed design such as a self-service kitchen.

Children are encouraged to take a hands-on approach to their learning.

Large, open floor plans and porous interfaces between indoor and outdoor space are design elements that facilitate that aim.

As is often the case with childcare projects, a key element of Co-Lab Architecture’s brief was to design a childcare centre that maximised the number of children that could be enrolled.

That economic imperative meant that yield had to be maximized while providing spaces that were open, inviting, and optimized for learning and development.

Access to natural light throughout the centre was essential as was creating an environment where parents felt comfortable leaving their children.

Further, the spatial design of the centre needed to facilitate both the Montessori and Reggio Emilia teaching methods and drive a self-directed approach to learning.

The size of the site was a challenge for the Co-Lab Architecture team.

Accommodating the required yield of 130 children on a 1,650 m2 site, constrained by an existing heritage building, was challenging.

There are strict spatial requirements for children and those requirements are unable to be relaxed.

To accommodate 130 children in a single level scheme typically requires a minimum site area of 2,700 m2.

With this project, Co-Lab Architecture’s solution involved renovating the heritage building on site to a contemporary standard.

Many parts of the building had to be rebuilt to accommodate current standards, like providing DDA access.

The Co-Lab Architecture team worked closely with the Local Council to satisfy their concerns about the interface of the new and old buildings.

Both the Montessori and Reggio Emilia teaching styles place a great deal of importance in self-directed learning and using the child’s environment as a teaching tool.

They emphasise open, comfortable, and welcoming classrooms.

Their methodology sees the environment as the ‘third teacher’ in the classroom, where children are allowed to explore freely and learn through hands-on, self-directed play.

That’s why providing spaces that stimulated play and provoked children’s imaginations was a key design consideration.

The centre is spread across two storeys to accommodate the required number of children.

In terms of spatial arrangement, Co-Lab Architecture gave priority to all playrooms and outdoor play areas to ensure children had expansive spaces to explore.

Balcony outdoor play areas were implemented on the first floor to provide all playrooms with direct access to outdoor areas, therefore facilitating spontaneous outdoor play.

Technical aspects of the centre such as fire evacuation stairs, rigorous waterproofing of outdoor areas that are directly above indoor spaces, and fingerprint security access were also carefully scrutinized throughout the design process.

Co-Lab Architecture’s design solution was to create a two-storey centre where the additions were distinctly different to the heritage building in form, material, and colour.

This allowed for a dialogue to occur between the existing heritage building and the contemporary addition with both aspects of the design balancing each other.

The rigid and formal composition of the heritage facade was offset by the playful timber cladding and circular openings in the extension.

All the while, the extension remained sympathetic to the existing structure and allowed the heritage building to become a feature, rather than shying away from it.

Throughout the design process, Co-Lab Architecture collaborated closely with the provider to ensure that the building would provide an open, comfortable, and welcoming environment for children.

Discussions were undertaken to carefully define spaces that would both facilitate the two teaching styles while aligning with the operator’s brand values.

The outcome?

The centre facilitates both Montessori and Reggio Emilia teaching methods with open plan, light-filled internal spaces that provide a platform for children to direct their own learning and play.

Large circular openings throughout the indoor and outdoor spaces provide visual continuity from the playrooms to the outdoor spaces and beyond.

This motif provides children with greater exposure to their surroundings and allows them to either passively observe their environment at varying scales or actively pursue challenges in their immediate environment.

Project Details

Site area – 1,650 m2
Completion date – 2015
Building levels – 2

Project Team


Co-Lab Architecture

Co-lab’s founding Director, Kane Barnett has practiced architecture for nearly 20 years in Melbourne and London. Before founding Co-lab Architecture in 2010, Kane worked for numerous renowned architecture practices including Buro Architects, Lyons, FMSA and London’s Broadway Malyan.

Kane is a leading expert on contract administration in his field, having lectured for PARC, the preeminent pre-registration course for Melbourne architects.

As the ‘architect’ behind the collaborative design method, Kane is committed to bringing the benefits of collaboration to the built environment.

He is equally passionate about architects having the opportunity to create in a collaborative forum.


Kit Haselden Photography

Kit Haselden Photography is a Melbourne-based commercial photography studio led by Kit Haselden.

They have an extensive and impressive client roster that includes many well-known brands.

Photo Gallery

Click on a thumbnail image to enlarge.

Design © 2020 Co-Lab Architecture. All Rights Reserved.| Images © 2020 Kit Haselden Photography. All Rights Reserved.

Get the Builtworks Letter

In every edition of the Builtworks Letter, you’ll get the behind-the-scenes backstory as to how buildings are designed, built, and brought to life.

You’ll hear compelling stories, learn surprising ideas, meet engaging characters, and discover unique voices.