The architects transforming Australia’s educational spaces

Australian architects are at the forefront of transforming Australia’s educational spaces; turning the traditional classroom into an exciting, interactive and sustainable learning environment.

Educationalists have long argued that the formal classroom model of educational spaces based around rows of desks is no longer appropriate in an age of flexible, creative, technology-driven learning. Lisa Moloney, principal of MLC School in Burwood, NSW, says the traditional box-shaped classroom is not conducive to modern teaching methods which utilise the latest technology and require a much greater involvement from students.

“It comes down to how the space is used to meet the needs of the child,” she says. “If you have a more engaged and varied approach, and therefore greater student involvement, then the learning will come.”

MLC’s new Senior Centre, designed by BVN Architecture, consists of four floors set around a central atrium. All of the educational spaces are now glass-walled and therefore provide a sense of openness for students and teaching staff alike.

Knut Menden, a senior associate with BVN, says that far from trailing behind Europe and North America, designers in both Australia and New Zealand are now spearheading the drive towards progressive educational spaces.

Originally from Germany, Menden is surprised that his homeland, like much of Europe, remains wedded to traditional box-like classroom design.

“We went all the way to Europe to look for [new] school architecture, but the reality is that New Zealand and Australia are at the forefront of progressive school design,” he says.

Earlier this year, BVN’s design for Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School in North Strathfield took out a category award at the 2019 Learning Environments Australasia Awards for Excellence in Education Facility Design in Perth.

One of the most noticeable elements of the new design is BVN’s generous use of cross-laminated timber rather than the drab-looking carpet often used in schools.

"It’s a very different type of space to traditional schools,” says Menden. “We had a big focus on using timber and natural materials.”

The use of earthy, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing materials is a common element that links many of Australia’s most successful designs for schools.

The Junior School Building at Whittlesea Secondary College in Victoria, for example, features a dramatic entrance constructed from red and black bricks from the Austral Bricks range.

“The scattered combination of different brick colours was designed to soften the exterior building form, and create a similar effect to dappled light coming through trees,” says Kim McLaren formerly of Maddison Architects, who developed the project.

When Matt Gibson Architecture + Design was commissioned to design a contemporary addition to St Mary’s Parish and Primary School in Malvern East, Melbourne, they chose Austral Bricks Mettallix in Zinc which would respect the existing sandstone church but also allow the new building to blend into the suburban streetscape.

“Architecturally, the building ultimately needed to be functional, comfortable and a heritage-sensitive addition connected to the church,” says Matt Gibson.

Despite the work of such progressive architects, the challenge to bring Australia’s classrooms into the 21st century remains. Three-quarters of schools in Australia and New Zealand still use classrooms that are unfit for today’s tech-savvy school students.

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