'Mini city' for kids among three Sydney awards at World Architecture FestivalThe East Sydney Early Learning Centre, designed by Andrew Burges Architects, won an award at the World Architecture Festival. Photo: Peter Bennetts

'Mini city' for kids among three Sydney awards at World Architecture Festival

By taking a child’s point of view and making an inner-city Sydney early education facility a “mini city” as the backdrop for creative play and exploration, Andrew Burges Architects yesterday won arguably the most important global architecture award in the field.

At the World Architecture Festival in Berlin, ABA’s East Sydney Early Learning Centre in Darlinghurst beat 17 other entries in the School, Civic and Community category to be named as the best building of this specialised application for the year.

Where other sectors had need to mention “highly recommended finalists” Burges’ project, created inside a four-level re-adapted 1920s warehouse, took a solo accolade as “outright winner”.

The project, that made miniaturised versions of the local cottage housing as play pods, and even replicated the idea of “lanes” and a stylised “town plaza” as a sandpit on the top floor, delighted the international judges in the packed Berlin forum, just as only weeks previously it had won the National AIA Award in Australia for Educational Architecture.

The East Sydney Early Learning Centre, designed by Andrew Burges Architects, won an award at the World Architecture Festival. Photo: Peter Bennetts The early learning centre has cottage-shaped play pods and laneways. Photo: Peter Bennetts

The enchanting, child-scale and genuinely child-friendly centre bumped aside three other great Australian projects in the same field but was so appealing in its unpretentious intent that it was the one that was all but impossible to ignore.

According to ABA, the guiding philosophy was “to emphasise childhood imagination” so that even the slatted timber bridge that crosses above a laneway to connect the Centre to the neighbouring playground was conceived as “a tree house”.

The children of Darlinghurst get it. And so, in this instance did the adult experts in Berlin.

Selected as outstanding as the Commercial winner on another world stage, The American Architecture Prize in October, and in early November in Australia as the Commercial winner in the National AIA awards, fjmt’s beautiful “tower of wood”, the EY Centre in George Street Sydney, did not take the top prize in Berlin but was deservedly cited out as “highly recommended” against 15 other projects in the category.

Using sandstone quarried from the site which is on the edge of the Tank Stream, making a street-level display of cultural artefacts also dug up during the build and making the street-level interface take the form of “reinterpreted trees to fray the edges like a tree canopy”, this brilliant new building is so replete with invention and responsive that it too has an American Architecture Prize in its growing list of citations.

The EY Centre in central Sydney received a highly commended prize at the festival Photo: Rodrigo Vargas The EY Centre in central Sydney received a highly commended prize at the festival. Photo: Rodrigo Vargas

Richard Francis-Jones presented the EY project as “having achieved a level of care and precision everywhere. We’ve tried to build detail and craft into every level of the building so that it is more like a cultural place than a building.”

It is, he told a rapt audience, “a beautiful, deeply human environment”.

In all, and on the first day of the three day WAF when 14 Australian firms made presentations that only these two practises ended up being mentioned in the winners grouping.

On day two of WAF competition and of 17 Australian entrants in competition only one, another Sydney project, won its category. Allen Jack and Cottier’s proposed “speculative”redesign for the Sydney Fish Markets was named best entrant in the Future Projects Leisure Led Design.

An artist's impression of the Allen Jack and Cottier design of the new Sydney Fish Market. An artist’s impression of the Allen Jack and Cottier design of the new Sydney Fish Market. Image: World Architecture Festival

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