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The Martian Embassy

We meet the people behind the Martian Embassy aka the Sydney Story Factory. It aims to ignite creativity in every child by offering free help from volunteer tutors to write all kinds of stories.

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It is not every day an architect is asked to design a Martian embassy - to be stocked with cans of gravity, emergency space food and flying-saucer repair kits.

Chris Bosse from the Laboratory for Visionary Architecture designed such a space for the Sydney Story Factory, a non-profit creative-writing centre in Redfern. The centre aims to cultivate writing skills in young people and offers free programs targeting students from marginalised, indigenous and non-English-speaking backgrounds.

''It was by far the weirdest and most absurd brief I've ever seen,'' says Bosse, who has also worked on the design for Beijing's Water Cube aquatics centre and the world's first carbon-neutral, waste-free city, Masdar, in the United Arab Emirates. ''The idea was to stimulate creativity in the children as they walked through an unusual space and past all the extraterrestrial gimmicks.''

One of Joanne McWhinney's bedroom designs.

One of Joanne McWhinney's bedroom designs.

Clever architecture and interior design can trigger children's imaginations and help them learn. Bosse hopes children who venture into the intergalactic-themed Story Factory will forget they are entering an educational space.

''We have to engage with what children do best, which is to play and have fun,'' he says.

The elongated room is structured by more than 1000 oscillating plywood sections, which could resemble a whale's skeleton, a time-travel tunnel or a space rocket. The curvilinear, futuristic space borrows from yacht-construction techniques.

The design team, which visited schools to talk to children about their preferences, found that ''thinking like kids'' was a useful tool.

In designing for children, it is important to draw on their ideas, says interior designer Joanne McWhinney. She started Kids in Designed Spaces in Bexley four years ago because she felt there were too few designers creating inspirational spaces to encourage children's development and sense of play.

The mother of two says creative spaces for children can be stylish as well as practical. She uses mobiles or bunting for baby rooms, toy boxes and low tables for young children, and desks and low seating for schoolchildren.

''When surrounded by colour, texture, shape and style, children develop an appreciation for design and translate this into their own creations,'' McWhinney says.

She recently created a playroom for an 18-month-old boy, with bright-blue walls and ruby-red features.

For inspiration, she watched him play and asked his mother about his favourite things. Based on his preferences, she incorporated a blackboard, a round-edge table with stools, a mobile toy box and oversize toy bags hanging from the walls.

Interior decorator Lesa Hippisley, who owns Hip Interiors for Kids in Capalaba, near Brisbane, says hiding spaces can enhance a child's play and imaginings. The lines and angles of a room can be softened with draped fabric, bed nets and play tents.

For older children, she recommends reading nooks ''to allow them to escape and read a favourite book''. Lighting is another important factor. It should be flexible, with task lighting for study and mood lighting for relaxation.

''The only no-no I have is not to create a constant dark space,'' Hippisley says.

''Children's rooms should evoke life … block-out drapery can create darkness for sleep.''

 

Innovative interiors 

❏ Hang a pinboard, blackboard or canvas so children can express their creativity.

❏ Use wallpaper, artwork or graphics as a focal point.

❏ Pick three or four main colours and repeat them throughout the space in various patterns and shapes.

❏ Hang mobiles, bunting and bed nets, or drape fabric to soften the room.

❏ Use fun or unusual lighting. Fairy lights and interesting lampshades can work well in children's rooms.