Now that Will Alsop has reached the giddy heights of Stirling Prize winner, broadcaster, and masterplanner extraordinaire, his past experience as an employee of the late great Cedric Price is occasionally overlooked. But the Fawood Children's Centre brings it to mind. Like Price's work, it favours an industrial aesthetic of frames and gantries over the monumental, and challenges preconceptions about conventional building types. Rather than creating a building with subservient outdoor space, Alsop has enclosed all the available space in a large mesh cage with a corrugated metal and polycarbonate pitched roof, creating space that is sheltered and secure but essentially open air. Climatically controlled areas are housed in a three-storey structure of refurbished shipping containers connected by open, steel-framed access decks. A yurt provides a soft play space. Children are free to move at will between semi-outdoor areas and more enclosed space.
The solution for managing the difference in temperature is also reminiscent of Price - a bodywarmer is provided for each child.
It is typical of both Price and Alsop that the fruits of such radical thinking are applied to a project designed to improve the lives of some of the least privileged members of society. The project was commissioned by the Stonebridge Housing Action Trust as the initial step in a regeneration programme to revitalise the Stonebridge Estate in Harlesden, north London. Following the government's Sure Start principles, it provides education (and health checks) for three-year-olds to five-year-olds, as well as support for parenting and facilities for children with special needs.
Joan Bakewell To roof a nursery space so that you feel that you are both inside and outside is very clever. As far as I know it's never been done before, which makes it a very challenging building to judge and to understand.
Isabel Allen What I think is interesting is the way in which it breaks down the boundary between childcare and community watch. There are parts of the building where a child - or teacher - could hide from the rest of the nursery community and could potentially misbehave, but all of these spaces are visible to the outside.
Piers Gough I worry about this. The diagram is great. But why is there such a tough aesthetic? In spite of the colour, it's too harsh.
Max Fordham These sort of cabins are not very comfortable because they get hot.
And maybe the roof shades them, but I don't really believe it does enough.
Jack Pringle I love it. The building may be cheap but the ideas aren't. It's safe (and that's important in a pretty mixed area) and gives a free and playful environment for the kids. It's a riot of colour, which may be a bit gratuitous, but it's clearly meant to be fun. I think that's OK. It's also a signal to the community - who can use it out of hours - that Stonebridge HAT cares. But it's not beyond criticism. These containers could have been done a whole lot more cheaply.
They've been used more for their iconic status than for economy. They're meant to say 'we're cheap and clever', but actually that's what it's not.
Isabel Allen They are presented in a way that is very controlled. They're all the same colour and very neatly arranged. If they had played more games in terms of arrangement, and particularly colour, I'm not sure they would have felt the need for those multi-coloured lozenges on the front of the cage.
Piers Gough I think if you use bright colours wrongly, you can actually end up undermining the notion of colour. It's forced cheerfulness in an environment that, in reality, is very depressing and rather grey.
Jack Pringle It's a grey day. The quality of light will depend on the weather? Piers Gough ?mediated by that mesh. We all love the idea of a mesh enclosure, but the fact is that they're ugly. This, to me, is an elegant example of a really good idea really badly carried out.
Max Fordham It could have been a wire fence with glass on top. It's marvellous that Alsop enabled that roof to be built and the fact that you can't classify what is indoor and outdoor space means that all those really terrible acoustic regulations, which are a straitjacket, are turned upside down, and that's wonderful.
Subcontractors and suppliers Lighting Twintech Lighting, Concord/Marlin; sanitaryware Armitage Shanks;
children's WC cubicles Cubicle Systems; kitchen furniture Elite Trade Kitchens: soft play area Playtop/Charles Lawrence Surfaces; roof polycarbonate Polytec, profile sheeting and powder coating Corus Color Steels; foam infill Premier Sealant Systems;
fixings Thunderbolts; gutters and flashings Interlink South; glazing bar and cap/ridge Clearcut Services; extruders Baco; ironmongery James Gibbons Format; security access system DOM; signage James Gibbons Format/Charles R Meek; carpet Heckmondwike; vinyl flooring Gerflor Contract Flooring; underfloor heating Floor Heating Systems; lift Stannah; folding partition Style/Hufcor