If three-time world surfing champion Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew had not skipped so many classes at Queensland’s Miami State High School, his face may have adorned a striking brick mural on the new Year 7 and 8 facility at his old alma mater.
Instead, a Brick Art installation celebrates coastal life, depicting a tube, the finely-shaped breaking wave-form beloved of surfers. The wave reflects Miami’s location on the Gold Coast, and the tube “is a metaphor for the need to focus on the task at hand from start to finish, keeping calm and composed in the middle, and achieving the best outcome for you,” says Simon Moisey of Conrad Gargett.
Miami’s most famous ex-student, former Queensland premier Anna Bligh, initiated the Flying Start program which brought Year 7 students into the high school system, in line with other states. On the morning of the opening of the new facility, Ms Bligh “broke out into the school song over the phone,” said Education Minister Kate Jones. “She was excited about the new building, at the city’s oldest high school — the first to be built between Brisbane and Tweed Heads.”
There’s a lot to sing about. An arrival section connects to the main building by an open bridge. Over two levels, plus an undercroft, the young students and staff are accommodated in 12 general classrooms, six specialist areas, and staff and student amenities. There is also a wheelchair-accessible link to a swimming pool, as well as new tennis, netball and volleyball courts. In its first year of operation, the facility welcomed 206 Year 7 students as well as a further 168 Year 8 pupils.
The building itself is of conventional commercial construction with pre-tensioned concrete floor slabs supported on reinforced concrete blade columns. The main elevations are clad in a veneer of painted concrete masonry, using Austral Masonry half-height Alphalite blocks. These compact units have similar proportions to standard clay bricks, albeit with a slightly larger face area at 390 x 90 mm, making a connection back to the masonry used on the original school buildings.
The school has had a long association with art. Miami’s most outstanding landmark is the school’s dramatic “Hollywood’-style sign, the brainchild of a former principal in 1979.
The script “MIAMI HIGH’ rises in vibrant yellow letters over the face of a former quarry and is now heritage listed.
The new Brick Art installation continues this tradition, rising over three levels on the northern elevation of the Year 7 & 8 building. “The school has a history of murals and painted scenes on some of the buildings,” Moisey explains. “We wanted something to link the new building to the existing school and the location. The tube wave expresses activity, locality and the environment.”
The Conrad Gargett team were shown Brick Art examples by Brickworks Building Products and quickly recognised the value of “a built-in piece of artwork which is also serving a purpose; it’s a cladding on the building that becomes a piece of artwork.”
A surf photograph was identified and pixelated, then manipulated to the wall size. A simple brickwork pattern was placed over it and sent to Brickworks, which came up with a suitable design using just five brick colours to give the final work form and depth.
Once the design was approved, the bricks were made and each half or whole unit was numbered and placed in order on pallets. This pre-sorting and ordering increased site efficiency for the bricklaying team by allowing them to easily retrieve the required units in the correct sequence. The brickwork was laid is a standard grey mortar with recessed joints.
The bricklayers were Shane Norton and Rese Rose Gates, better known as Elvis & Rose, who have become the go-to team for artistic bricklaying in Queensland and New South Wales. They were responsible for the superb bricklaying in the Aperture House, a collaboration between Cox Rayner Architects and Twofold Studio which won the Residential section of the 2014 Think Brick Awards (see www.designplace.com.au).
“We enjoyed working with Elvis & Rose, they were great,” says Simon Moisey. “Before they went to site I spoke to Shane about a dozen times and met him about three times just to go through the pattern and the mortar and the ironing of the joints and all these details. He had some great ideas so we fleshed that out before they actually commenced work.”The artwork and symbolism is not restricted to the Brick Art mural. The building prompted the school’s principal, Jim Baker, to have the word ‘Inspire’ rise vertically on the western elevation of the entry building. He has since begun to similarly name the school’s existing buildings.
The message built into – or more correctly, projecting from – the western face of blockwork is more subtle, but no less rewarding. In keeping with our digital age, the projecting units “spell out” the school name, slogan and motto in binary, the ones-and- zeros language of computing:
STATE HIGH SCHOOL
LEARNING THROUGH A TEAM EFFORT
SEMPER FLOREAT COSTA
The projections combine with the light shadowing into the recessed mortar joints to reduce the impact of what would otherwise be a monolithic wall. In a similar vein, Sydney’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts used contrasting colours of Bowral Bricks dry-pressed units to illustrate musical notation in a wall. The Don Bosco Creative Arts Link at Hobart’s Guilford Young College also applied this contrast, this time in Austral Bricks Burlesque glazed bricks, to trace a digital representation of a passage from a Beethoven symphony. (See these at www.designplace.com.au.)
What began as a need to increase accommodation for an earlier intake of pupils to the secondary system, has evolved into an inspiration for the entire campus. “There has been lots of fun and laughter since we have been using this building from the start of the year,” said the principal Jim Baker.
“I can’t get over the level of noise from the new students, it’s great, and the name ‘Inspire’ reflects the inspirational teachers we have at this school — it’s the best quality a teacher can possess.”
With the inspirational Year 7 and 8 facility and the school’s strong teaching ethos, we can expect to see new champions in many fields of endeavour emerge in years to come.
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