Discover Children’s Story Centre by Carmody Groarke
A children’s literacy centre in London’s East End required the creation of durable, child-friendly surfaces
Architect Carmody Groarke
Location 383-387 High Street, Stratford, east London
Completion date 2010
Discover Children’s Story Centre is not your mainstream soft-play venue, but the UK’s first hands-on creative literacy centre for children of up to 11. It is located in one of the most economically deprived areas in the country, and provides a stimulating environment to spark children’s imagination.
The centre opened in 2003 occupying the three lower floors of an Edwardian five-storey building on Stratford High Street in east London. Its programmes include school workshops, family art activities and a literature programme led by children’s writers and illustrators. It also has a “story garden” at the rear.
Early last year, the centre was awarded a grant by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation as part of High Street 2012 – a project to improve the high street for the Olympics and beyond. The funding enabled the centre to appoint Carmody Groarke to reconfigure the 350sq m ground floor space.
The architect relocated the main entrance from the rear of the building to the high street, with a reception desk to give a greater street presence, and also added a café and shop. A large storage area for pushchairs was created behind the main stairwell.
The new spaces are created by bespoke plywood units which act as internal walls, seats, display shelves, work surfaces and storage.
“We provided the framework for the activity and not the activity itself,” says Andy Groarke of Carmody Groarke. “The new surfaces we introduced needed to be robust and will get better with wear and tear. We used wood because it has a warmth and quality that seems appropriate for children.”
Carmody Groarke completed the project in four weeks, working on a shoestring budget of £220,000. The scheme provides a comfortable and inviting interior for children and parents alike and since its completion visitor numbers have increased by 18%.
Axonometric of plywood assembly
1 Routed plywood to cover over existing radiators. 25mm birch faced plywood with various colour stains.
2 Bench and children’s desk height for writing and drawing in windows to Stratford High Street.
3 25mm birch-faced plywood ply ribs and frame.
4 LED rope light concealed by sand-blasted perspex cover.
5 Display shelving for books and merchandise.
6 Storage in drawers beneath bench.
Bespoke plywood units
The bespoke plywood units were used to break up the ground floor and introduce some character into the space. The ground to ceiling height is an imposing 3.2m, so the units also bring down the scale to a child’s height.
“The bench height continues all around the room to allow children to also use the surface for colouring in,” says Andy Groarke.
The units are made from birch-faced ply, selected for its durability, warmth and relatively low cost. The architect chose not to paint the wood, fearing paint would chip in such a heavily used space. Instead, it was stained in lilac and salmon colours.
Low-energy LED rope lights were fixed behind the plywood upstand to the back of the benches, with strips of opal Perspex fixed over the opening to ensure children don’t touch the lights and to give a diffused glow over the surface.
“By employing the lighting close to the grain of the timber you get a real depth of surface and the character gradually changes,” says Groarke.
Contractor Rise Contracts made the units in a joinery workshop and then constructed them on site using secret fixings, partly for a visual effect but also for children’s safety. The bench that runs around the café perimeter provides fixed seating with sliding-drawer storage for merchandise beneath and can also be used as a children’s drawing desk.
Where the stained plywood conceals the radiators, the timber is routed to allow the heat through.
The reception desk, also made from the plywood units, serves as the ticketed entry point and café service point. Mirrors have been fixed to one wall to enable staff to monitor what happens when their back is turned. To enhance the salmon and pink colours of the plywood units, a raspberry coloured industrial polished resin was selected for the floor.
1 Routed plywood to cover over existing radiators. 25mm birch-faced plywood with various colour stains.
2 New plasterboard bulkhead concealing services.
3 Bench and children’s desk height for writing and drawing in windows to Stratford High Street.
4 25mm birch-faced plywood ply ribs and frame treated with coloured stain and sanding sealer.
5 LED rope light concealed by sand-blasted perspex cover.
6 25mm birch-faced plywood panel treated with coloured stain and sanding sealer.
7 Storage in drawers beneath bench.