Location: Melbourne, VIC
Architect: Hede Architects
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History, culture, nature and function combine in this Melbourne preschool to create a rich and engaging learning environment.
Mordialloc Preschool is a study in how sensitivity to site and function afford success in design, even when working within constraints. Located in the southeast Melbourne suburb of Mordialloc, the pre-school’s 2015 redevelopment ties it to its geographical and cultural setting while attending to the needs of its most important occupants – children.
Hede Architects were employed by local council to execute the project, with a brief to replace the existing kindergarten building and double capacity while retaining both land envelope, landscaping and building footprint. The intervention offered the opportunity to both update the school’s educational amenity and imbue the new build with contextual resonance.
Functionally, the design aims to foster children’s development through curiosity and engagement with their environment while ensuring their safety and security. The new building is designed around the children’s needs, enabling and encouraging them to develop a connection and relationship with their surroundings by providing naturally lit indoor play and ablution spaces which connect directly to the external veranda which cranks, kinks and dances around the outside play areas.
Reinforcing this engagement is the fact that the preschool building itself so closely interacts with its context: a site of importance to the historic aboriginal inhabitants. Indeed, the name ‘Mordialloc’ derives from the term moordy yallock, meaning ‘muddy creek’ or ‘little sea’ in the local Boonwurrung language. “It was a site associated with aboriginal use of the creek and its surrounds,” explains Paul Hede, Director at the Hede Architects.
This link rendered a rich source of inspiration, and is powerfully reflected in the design and materiality of the school. In particular, the rear wall of the building is a shared boundary between the school and the parkland, and the mural’s patterned brickwork, composed of Austral Bricks Burlesque range in Chilling Black, Deeping Green, Enchanting Yellow, Luscious Red, Smashing Blue and Elements range in zinc, evokes the nearby creek, with an oval-shaped patch of earth-coloured bricks in the gap between the windows representing the trees used by Indigenous Australian peoples to make bark canoes. The windows work around the mural’s depiction of the winding creek, dodging up and down to cater for adjustable storage cupboards and benches in the classroom behind the wall.
“The response was to express the aboriginal connection in the building’s colours at the front and to show the site’s importance relative to the creek by the rear elevation incorporating a guide to the locality and the creek in the brickwork,” says Hede. Both the colouring and texture of bricks were harnessed to animate the mural, with the Hede team making use of “strong aboriginally connected colours on the north façade and covered areas and coloured glazed bricks to tell the creek story on the rear façade.”
Even before this more whimsical device had entered the design however, the architects were set on using bricks on the project for, as Hede says their “capacity to provide lasting colour in a strong material that could cope with the environment.” The material’s durability and flexibility makes it an ideal candidate for many external applications where pragmatic and aesthetic needs must be met: Hede observes that “bricks have become an element combining both colour and texture and are able to express ideas in a single plane unlike other materials.”
“Their colour and texture offers opportunity yet the timeless nature of the material and its use gives solidity that some projects need,” he continues, underscoring just how versatile and reliable the humble yet high-performing material is.
When asked in which direction he feels brickwork could evolve in the future, Hede responds that he would like to see “greater use of holes, voids and light passing through brick walls” in how the material is used. More adventurous experimentation was beyond the brief for this project, but this sculptural, illuminating approach is hinted at by the organic silhouette of the windows tracing the ‘creek’s path.
Overall, Mordialloc Preschool is an impressive example of how a great deal can be accomplished by simply responding to the needs and circumstance of a project and creatively applying an appropriate material palette. In particular the layered relevance of how brickwork evokes the geographic, historic and cultural heritage of the site while simultaneously speaking to the children’s imaginations and performing a robust, structural function is the essence of the marriage of form and function.
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