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Mabel Fidler Building

In 1901 Miss Mabel Fidler opened a day school in the Sydney suburb of Gordon on land adjacent to ‘Ravenswood’, the home she and her sisters built two years prior.
Mabel Fidler Building
Cockram Construction
Structural Engineer
Taylor Thomson & Whitting
DJD Brick & Blocklaying
Paving Contractor
ESD Landscape Contractor
Hamlet Pavers in Bowral Blue

In those days it was common for young women to establish small independent schools; Ravenswood School for Girls is one of the few still operating on its original site.

The Mabel Fidler Building, opened in July 2011, is the first outcome of a masterplan that seeks to unify a campus that has grown from a handful of students to an enrolment of over 1100. The new building forms a hub for both staff and students and heralds a new direction for the school.

As well as supplying Bowral Blue bricks for the base walling, Austral Bricks® worked with BVN (formerly Bligh Voller Nield) and ESD Landscape Contractors to develop a new clay paver format, essentially a half-brick laid on its edge, that allows the base walling and adjacent paving to “form a continuous landscape out of the same material,” explains project architect Knut Menden.

The BVN team, led by principal Bill Dowzer, consulted with staff and students to define the school’s needs. “There was a particular site that the school had in mind for the new building but the students had other ideas,” Menden recalls. The students prevailed. The chosen site was restricted due to its proximity to the school oval and the adjacent Centenary Centre which prompted the building’s shallow-vee plan.

The Mabel Fidler Building is at the heart of the school. Senior school classrooms are grouped around the lower courtyard, with the main reception, administration, cafeteria, senior student lounge and staff areas on level one, within the base structure.

Hamlet Pavers in Bowral Blue
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The lower level walling comprises an inner skin of 200 mm thick reinforced concrete, 45 mm polystyrene foam insulation, a 45 mm cavity and an outer skin of Bowral Blue dry-pressed bricks.This in turn supports the upper level steel framing and roof structure.

The cantilevered top level, which houses the Learning Resource Centre, a series of flexible learning spaces, meeting and assembly rooms, and multimedia areas, is clad in hollow, translucent polycarbonate panels. Translucent glass on the inner face further diffuses the light and can be used as a whiteboard.

Although the site dates back over a century, much of the campus was built in brick in the second half of the last century.The Mabel Fidler Building base brickwork acknowledges this heritage.“It is saying this is a new time for Ravenswood, this is a modern building which has a link to the existing buildings by the brick base but is different to the rest of the campus,” Menden contends.

The brickwork theme was also continued with the use of clay pavers, which flow from the exterior into the cafeteria and through to the senior student lounge and staff area.

The designers wanted the walling and paving to be unified in colour and form, requiring the bricks and pavers to be the same colour, length and set-out to align across both planes.

BVN Architects and ESD Landscape Contractors approached Austral Bricks.“We didn’t want a standard paver because the size was different and the look would be different,” says Knut Menden.“Our first thought was to use standard bricks laid on edge so essentially it looks exactly like the wall.”This proved unviable as it increased slab thickness. Austral Bricks offered to cut bricks in half at the factory and then decided to manufacture a special unit 230 mm long by 76 mm high and 55 mm wide.

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The pavers are laid on a base of cementstabilised sand and the 10 mm gaps slurry-filled with a grout matched to the mortar colour of the walling.The set-out was controlled by a stringline grid, assisted by the six metre grid used throughout the building.“We had minor problems when trying to align with other architectural features such as columns,” says Jeremy Winer, managing director of ESD Landscape Contractors.

Austral Bricks has developed the half-brick paver format into a standard product range called the Bowral Bricks Hamlet Collection comprising three standard colours: Blue (used in the Ravenswood project), Sepia (brown) and Ash (grey). Custom colours are available for larger projects.

“Overall, the detail of the pavers ensures a high quality finish suitable for very high pedestrian traffic areas that will absorb a lot of wear and tear,” says Jeremy Winer. Knut Menden was pleased with the execution of the paving design concept.“The idea was that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s inside or outside.And that turned out really well.”

The Mabel Fidler Building has set a new benchmark for the school in both architecture and educational design. As a Ravenswood parent said recently “It is a building that just keeps on giving.”

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