In the rural New Zealand haven of Dairy Flat, U.K.-based architecture firm Collingridge and Smith Architects has recently completed the Fantails Estate, an early learning center for 154 babies and preschoolers. Designed to sit sensitively within its rural context, the modern building is built primarily of timber and opens up to the outdoors with large windows and areas for outdoor play. Sustainability has also been naturally woven into the design, which includes a rainwater harvesting system, onsite blackwater treatment, a high-insulated building envelope and passive solar principles.

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building lit up from within at night

Set over 3.5 hectares of land, the Fantails Estate was conceived as a unique “luxury lodge” for children. The center features a radial plan with six individual blocks fanned out around a geometric timber canopy and centrally located car park. The six blocks comprise five individual classrooms as well as a private staff block housing the kitchen, laundry and administrative spaces. 

Related: Chrysalis Childcare Centre uses existing trees as symbolic centerpieces

wood deck connected to sliding glass doors opening to a classroom
wood geometric reception desk near sliding glass doors

Each classroom opens up to a shaded, north-facing terrace that connects to a large playground and countryside views. The integration of all-weather play spaces provides children with seven times the minimum area for outdoor play, with each child allotted approximately 52 square meters of individual play space, according to the architects. The sizing and orientation of the blocks are also optimized for indoor access to natural light and ventilation. Low-E glazed sliding doors emphasize the indoor/outdoor connection.

toys and play house in a classroom
small handwashing station on an outdoor deck

A warm, natural materials palette defines both the exterior and interior, the latter of which is fitted with custom-designed cabinetry and play equipment for a cohesive feel. Steel beams and posts were minimally incorporated into the building’s timber envelope so as to minimize the center’s overall carbon footprint. In addition to a high-performance envelope that minimizes heat loss, the architects oriented the building for solar gains in winter and natural shading and thermal mass cooling in summer.

+ Collingridge and Smith Architects

Photography by Mark Scowen via Collingridge and Smith Architects