Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

  • Comment

With this remodelled nursery LPA has surpassed the requirement of the brief and responded to the challenge with great innovation, says Elly Ward

PROJECT DATA • CLIENT’S VIEW • ARCHITECT’S VIEW • PROJECT MANAGER’S VIEW • COSTS • SPECIFICATION • PLANSECTION

Shacklewell Lane in east London sits the former Shacklewell Baths, a diminutive yet still, in its way, grand public building built in the 1930s to serve the residents of Dalston, Stoke Newington and Newington Green.

Typically for buildings of this type and use from that era, its scale is reduced, appearing two-thirds the size of ‘proper’ municipal buildings in central London and other cities. In a similar way to Disneyland’s Main Street, this reduction in scale makes it seem less domineering and on a somehow more human scale. This is how east London did inter-war civic splendour. Built from red brick with Portland stone dressings and classical detailing, the central bay retains its inscription ‘Public Washing Baths’ and underneath two separate entrances are inscribed with ‘Men’ to the right and ‘Women’ to the left. Not quite big enough to house a swimming pool, its two bays contained simple washing facilities for those working-class Hackney residents who had no private washing facilities in their own homes.

This proud little building once performed an important role in the improvement of public health, providing an essential service to the local neighbourhood as well as offering a convenient and convivial environment for social interaction and community cohesion. Since 2002 the building has been used as a nursery and in this way continues to perform its role in providing an essential local service. The nursery is an extension of the domestic realm in a different sense, one that nurtures and provides a happy, safe space for learning and development. It offers a place for local families to connect with and belong to; and, for the children in its care, a series of experiences that they may not remember too clearly in adulthood but whose impact will shape their development in some way.

Once through the gates and inside the main reception area, you are immediately confronted with the typical, jolly disarray and chaos that one expects to find in a busy, functioning nursery. The Bath House calls itself not a nursery, in fact, but a Children’s Community Centre, which reflects not just the age range catered for here – from 12 months to pre-schoolers and all the way up to early teens – but a desire to create an environment that is about openness and cohesion, collaboration and freedom of expression. A day nursery, after-school club and holiday clubs generate activity around the clock and, as with most buildings of this type, space is super-tight, resources are limited and so operations  require military-style logistical strategies.

The Bath House team had been struggling to resolve a number of problems arising from the limited space when they reached out to Lipton Plant Architects (LPA). Their single-storey building is warren-like, with a number of different rooms and spaces full to the brim with children and their various activities. LPA’s challenge was to resolve the biggest space requirement, which is for pre-schoolers. This, the largest group, found themselves divided across several different parts of the building and staff were finding it difficult to supervise them efficiently while still allowing opportunities for imaginative play, an essential part of pre-school development.

The stair depicts a fantasy space, a giant tree-house to hide in

Essentially the brief was to find a way to bring all the pre-schoolers together in an interesting and comfortable space that could be staffed easily. This was achieved by extending the building outwards, opening up the interior and reconfiguring how the space was used. The demolition of several internal walls and insertion of large glass openings and four new roof lights have introduced an abundance of natural daylight and a sense of unfettered yet observable movement, connecting the outside to the inside and vice versa. A bright yellow floor unites the newly conjoined spaces, extending out into the play yard and creating the impression of an even bigger floor area which feels positively luxurious in what is an otherwise fiercely contested, highly programmed and densely populated environment.

But the most significant design move is the large timber frame structure that serves as both decorative screen and staircase, providing access to a deck at first floor level and offering a number of other generous additional spaces as a bonus: reading nooks, cubby holes, secret niches to snuggle into as well as practical facilities to clean up in. Beyond its function in this way, the central stair also provides a site for fantastic, imaginative play. Articulated as a tall, broad tree with branches that spread up to the ceiling and outwards to the walls on either side, the screen depicts a fantasy space, a giant tree-house to climb into, to hide in and play out make-believe stories and games.

This structure was inspired by the tree house described in Johann David Wyss’s 1812 adventure novel, Swiss Family Robinson, the temporary home of a fictional family shipwrecked on a desert island, which Walt Disney adapted for a hugely popular film in 1960. The tale, of course, is derived from Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, who was schooled nearby at Stoke Newington. In the odd Lilliputian world of spaces designed for young children, the playful use of narrative to drive the design in this way feels entirely appropriate.

This intervention is the project’s crowning glory and has transformed the Bath House into a very special place. Whereas one could have successfully met the brief through simply delivering practical solutions to resolve the space issues, LPA has surpassed this requirement and responded to their challenge with spectacular innovation, adding beauty and delight beyond what was required. That they have also achieved this with an extremely modest budget and a construction programme constrained by school timetabling is a laudable achievement which should  prove inspirational in situations facing similar challenges.

Plan

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Section A-A

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Client’s view

We commissioned Lipton Plant Architects to increase the internal space, improve access to the outdoor area, and create imaginative play spaces at our Bath House building. The nursery staff had ongoing input in the process, and our suggestions were incorporated into the design.

We are thrilled with the transformation, which is beautiful and elegant and meets all our needs, such as easy access to the garden, flexible use of space and better flow of people through the building. It also provides an inspiring play area, full of light and excitement.  

The room was renamed the Sunshine Room once we saw it flooded with light from the new windows. The sliding doors and glass panels create a sense of a much larger space.  

The outstanding feature is the tree-like balustrade, which allows visibility from above and below, essential for supervision of children.  It leads to a very exciting wooden room at the top, which feels like a secret treehouse. This creates a thrilling sense of excitement for the children as they climb up it but can still see through the ‘branches’ into the room below.  

The high quality of design and specification vastly improves our play area.  It is inspiring for children to have such an imaginative play space, and leaves a great legacy for future nursery children.

Margaret Norwood, founder, manager and project manager, The Bath House Children’s Community Centre

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

Architect’s view

The Bath House Children’s Community Centre provides each age with specific facilities. The area for pre-school age children was restrictive in all senses; insufficient space, choked circulation, difficult for staff to monitor, poor access to outdoor space, limiting the potential for creative interaction, play and, ultimately, development. 

Logistically challenging for both nursery and contractor, the works were successfully and considerately completed in 11 weeks with the building remaining in constant use by children and staff. The budget was £115,000 and works were completed within the 10 per cent contingency. 

Externally, a palette of crisp white brick and bright colours have been used, with a bright yellow rubber floor running from inside to outside allowing the children to experience their changing environment and to interact with the other groups and ages. 

Generating yet further space with an upstairs platform for quiet play, reading and sleeping and multiple hide-outs on the route up, Lipton Plant Architects (LPA) devised an ingenious concept for the staircase and creating the heart of the space. Inspired by the significance of its locality and the fantastically relevant symbol of nurturing, growth, protection and play, LPA took the concept of the tree house from Johann Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, whose title and story derive from Robinson Crusoe by locally born author Daniel Defoe. 

LPA has been shortlisted for an RIBA award for this scheme and it has provided a catalyst for the practice to push even harder for the most creative process to ensure solutions of the greatest impact for clients and users. Since its opening, The Bath House has been recognised as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted.

Edward Lipton, director, Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

Project manager’s view

The Bath House project has been a very interesting experience overall.

They say that curiosity killed the cat. In this case curiosity fed the cat: the excitement and curiosity of the little kids made everything mean more in this project. The youngsters having a sneaky peak every time a door opened, the nursery workers impatient to see the progress over days, parents being curious every time they were picking up their children all this made the entire project even more exciting.

Each of our projects comes with its own technical difficulties but The Bath House went really smoothly, thanks to Lipton Plant Architects and to the client’s input during the entire project.

One of the interesting difficulties that occurred during the construction process was the suspended stair, which leads to the mezzanine platform. Normally we would install a timber post to support the stair structure from beneath but this would affect the design, so instead of supporting the stair from below we used the tree structure branches and supported the stair structure from above.

Alin Popa, project manager, Ecore Construction

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

Project data

Start on site July 2015
Completion September 2015
Gross internal floor area 80m²
Form of contract JCT Minor Works with contractor’s design
Construction cost £115,000
Construction cost per m2 £1,437.50
Architect Lipton Plant Architects
Client The Bath House Children’s Community Centre
Structural engineer Buxton Associates
Acoustic consultant Hoare Lea
Party wall surveyor John Reilly Civil Engineering
Project manager Ecore Construction
CDM co-ordinator RMaPS
Approved building inspector BBS Approved Inspectors and Consultants
Main contractor Ecore Construction
CAD software used AutoCAD

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

Specification

  • Nordan ND NTech Double Patio Door to extension
  • Nordan ND NTech Villa Balcony Door to extension
  • Encapsulite 24v RD Twin Stick LED lights
  • Nora Noraplan flooring, throughout
  • IKEA sinks and taps under stair
  • Portman P7001 Pocket Door under stair

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

Costs

 COST PER M² (£)PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL
SUBSTRUCTURE £265 18.40%
   
SUPERSTUCTURE  
Roof £80 5.50%
Staircases £93.75 6.50%
External walls £196.25 13.60%
Timber structure £133.75 9.30%
Windows £285 19.80%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL £789.60 54.90%
   
INTERNAL FINISHES  £143.75  10%
   
SERVICES  
Sanitary £31.25 2.10%
Drainage and plumbing £58.75 4%
Space heating and air treatment £23.12 1.60%
Electrical services £33.75 2.30%
GROUP ELEMENT TOTAL £146.87 10.20%
     
TOTAL  £1,437.50  

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

The Bath House by Lipton Plant Architects

Source: David Vintiner

 

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs

AJ Jobs