Nursery space

Play time: children break in the new nursery space . Photograph: David Vintiner

An indoor ‘treehouse’ is the stunning centrepiece of a refurbished nursery in Dalston, inspired by local author Daniel Defoe’s adventure story Robinson Crusoe.

The Bath House Children’s Community Centre on Shacklewell Lane is the site of a former public bathhouse, in use from the 1930s until the 1980s.

It was converted into a not-for-profit children’s centre in December 2000, and now provides childcare for children age 12 months to 11 years old.   

Lipton Plant Architects were asked to “rationalise the space” of the former bathhouse by extending and refurbishing the back of the nursery, and the firm’s innovative efforts have seen it nominated for a London regional RIBA (Royal Institutes of British Architects) award.

“The brief was to take a pretty dingy, horrible space at the back of the nursery, and do something with it that so that the kids who are in their last year before preschool have a better space and a environment to play in,” says architect Edward Lipton.

“We came up with the idea of this tree, which allows us to connect the upper and lower levels. Then off that tree we’d have lots of little cubby holes and spaces for the kids to play in.”

The new mezzanine area gives up to 12 children somewhere secluded to go for a nap, as well as a separating zone from the main play space.

“It gives the kids a sense of freedom and independence but also security at the same time,” Lipton says.

“It allows then to play creatively because these little cubby holes provide a stimulating environment for their imaginations. And the screens give them a sense of privacy, but as the areas are also quite open the staff can see the kids without them really realising.”

Timber treehouse

Natural selection: timber treehouse provides a secluded zone where the children can play creatively. Photograph: David Vintiner

The treehouse idea takes its lead from The Swiss Family Robinson, a novel by Johann David Wyss inspired by Robinson Crusoe, by the Hackney author Daniel Defoe.

“We usually have a core theme, an idea which links areas together and through good planning allows us to have big open plan spaces,” says Lipton.

“We were trying to overcome the constraints of building control where balustrading has to be a certain height, and kept coming back to the Swiss Family Robinson and the slightly tenuous link of the tree.”

In the story a shipwrecked family hollow the trunk of a giant tree and create a staircase out of it.

“We could have gone for a sheet of glass but we wanted to find something else, and through many, many iterations we ended up with this tree,” says Lipton.

Pine is the main material used, with a yellow rubber floor continuing the theme of recreating the outdoors inside.

“The response from the kids and parents has been unbelievably positive,” says Lipton. “And now it’s been shortlisted for an RIBA London Regional award too. Soon after we finished, the nursery was deemed outstanding by Ofsted, which we hope had something to do with the space provided.”

Bath House Children’s Community Centre, 76 Shacklewell Lane, E8 2EY

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