Location: Whittlesea, Victoria
Architect: Maddison Architects
Photographer: Sharon Blance
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A modern school pairs the latest in educational innovation with textured, appealing materiality.
Contemporary educational buildings are very different from those of a few decades ago. Certain novelties might seem obvious – new materials, in-built technology – but the way learning spaces are designed has also undergone a profound shift. Today, the emphasis is on flexibility, versatility and comfort, providing students with environments conducive to a range of learning methods and styles. That said, the buildings that house these environments share much in common with their counterparts of past generations, striving for shelter, amenity, convenience and visual appeal.
Completed in 2017, the 850m2 new Junior School Building at Whittlesea Secondary College by Maddison Architects is a fine example of how new educational practices should be married with functional, attractive design. The architects were presented with a brief for a completely new teaching facility, including five flexible general purpose classrooms, a science lab, graphics studio, outdoor learning decks, staff offices and toilet facilities, and a large gathering space. While the former among these could be satisfied with relatively straightforward solutions, the provision of the gathering space required a more creative response, in the form of a trio of classrooms that can be opened and combined to create a single area accommodating over 150 people. Across the project, practice Director Kim McLaren’s understanding of educational spaces guided the design: he states, “Good learning environments need to consider natural lighting, acoustics, outlook, accessibility, integrated technology and flexible furniture arrangements to accommodate different modes of learning.”
Site and context also had a significant influence on the design, both before and during the building process. “The shape and position of the building was adjusted to retain many of the existing trees on site, and ensure that it was well integrated into its surroundings, with windows and outdoor decks positioned to maximise the connection to the environment and ensure best environmental performance,” comments McLaren. “The layout of the building is arranged to create a generous arrival courtyard that is open and visible from the main school entry”, McLaren continues. This space provides a convenient, supervised staging area for students and parents before and after the school day, and sets the aesthetic tone for the building for new and regular visitors alike.
A defining and striking feature of the entry are the walls which feature Austral Bricks Burlesque in Charming Black and Luscious Red, blending together and creating a mottled, mosaic-like effect, with darker tones with red accents selected for the exterior to complement the surrounding existing school buildings, and lighter tones with green highlights selected for the interior and arrival courtyard. McLaren recalls, “brickwork was selected to create an expressive exterior pattern that was complementary to the surrounding natural environment. 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.”
Beyond this decorative effect, the design alludes to the principals of flexibility and adaptability which guide the organisation of space within the college, thus creating a thematic continuity from the moment of arrival. Brickwork also fit with the architects’ budgetary and functional constraints for the project, satisfying the need for durable, low-maintenance materials which sustained the structure’s overall design response.
The use of bricks in this project is an example of what McLaren sees as particularly satisfying about working with bricks, as they allow the architect to explore different patterns of laying and alternating bricks – what he terms an “interesting creative process that adds texture and detail to a design.” McLaren also appreciates the material’s strength; “the inherent mass and solidity of bricks also has an appeal that helps a building feel secure and robust,” he says.
Outside of his own practice, McLaren is pleased to see architects continuing to experiment with bricks, from plays in transparency and openness created by weave-like effects in smaller projects, to their visionary application in projects such as the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building at the UTS School of Business by Frank Gehry. Looking to the future, he is especially excited by the development of technology to assist architects with assessing the viability of building complex forms in bricks, and the possibility of having even small batches of custom bricks made for specific projects.
As projects like Whittlesea Secondary College demonstrate, the thoughtful and competent incorporation of bricks into a project provides a suite of functional and aesthetic advantages, and can integrate compellingly into contemporary, innovative settings.
AUSTRAL BRICKS Burlesque
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Colours: Charming Black & Luscious Red