The Great Debate: Vertical Schools are just a Simple Stor(e)y.

The Queensland Chapter recently held The Great Educational Debate at Redeemer Lutheran College, Rochedale. The topic was “Vertical Schools are just a Simple Stor(e)y”.

The LEQ AGM and election of the new committee was held prior to the Debate. Julie Saunders was duly elected as Chair, and Derek Bartels as Chair Elect. Outgoing co-chairs Rachel Towill and Katerina Dracopolous and outgoing committee members were thanked for their significant contributions over the past years.

Following the AGM those attending the event were treated to a tour of the newly opened Tree Top playground at the college. The playground was designed and funded by OOSHC (Out of School Hours Care) with significant input from the students themselves. The tree-top design was a response to the students request for climbing trees and having a magical space just for themselves. The sprawling college is fortunate to have rolling fields and many existing trees. A culture of safe climbing has already been established and some trees have been designated as ‘climbing trees’. The smooth trunks and shiny limbs attest to the popularity of the pastime.

The new vertical playground is literally built on and among the gum trees, raised off the ground on a sea of posts and consisting of a web of ropes, netting and planks.  Hexagonal zones provide discreet physical learning experiences. In addition to the design of the playground the students have had a hand in developing, and enforcing, the rules for the safe and equitable use of the playground.

Then on to the Great Debate: Vertical Schools are just a Simple Storey.

Debate chairman, Derek Bartels, kept the proceedings lively and suitably controversial. The For team included Architect Richard Leonard and Teacher Wes Warner, and the Against team included Architect Christina Cho and Teacher Josh Pacek. Two Year 12 Students from Trinity Lutheran College, Faith and Maxine rounded off the teams. The Year 12 students gave everyone a run for their money, using their finely-honed professional debating skills to close down arguments and twist the topic to their advantage. They also provided that all-important student perspective and reality check.

To the backdrop of The Towering Inferno, those opposing vertical schools proclaimed they were expensive, inconvenient for student travel, and required extreme engineering and servicing solutions which detrimentally affect the cost and complexity of construction. The team also shared some interesting statistics about the demography of the inner city. Most vertical schools are located within inner city dense urban centres, apparently to accommodate the increasing numbers of people living in these places. Although according to the figures, the highest percentages of people moving into these areas are wealthy DINKs, or young couples getting their foot on the property ladder – in other words, not many school-aged residents. But it’s hard to know if this is just a consequence of the current situation – if there were better facilities ie schools in dense inner urban areas, will more families move to, settle, and remain, there? If you build it, will they come, but more importantly, stay? Are supporters of vertical schools just ‘high-rise hipsters’?

Under the theme of “Let’s all get high for vertical”, those opposing the argument spoke about the idealistic merits of vertical schooling. These included utilising every spare inch of land as a learning space, tackling childhood obesity through forced exercise, and creating opportunities for chance encounters and incidental interaction between different age groups. As more work places are relocating to large multi-storey buildings, this typology also provides an opportunity for students to experience the world of work before they leave their safe school home. One of the downfalls we often hear about is the lack of school oval. There are numerous examples of how schools have combatted this issue (ovals on the roof, numerous smaller play spaces, sharing nearby community facilities for example). When you actually look at a typical school though – how often do you use the whole oval?

Co-locating schools with other facilities like community centres or aged care, and inner-city schools using the city’s opportunities for learning has amazing potential for engaging student’s curiosity. In a time when so much of what we know about learning, understanding and creativity is changing so quickly, the ability to embrace different learning spaces is exciting. With changing family structures, students are looking for places to study for longer hours in the day, and as noted above it is not just school-aged students living in the area, who could benefit from learning opportunities. Vertical schools can make a huge difference in this space, with open shared access allowing them to truly embrace lifelong learning.

Finally, who can go past the fundamental design argument for a vertical school: “Waterproof only one slab and build only one roof.”?!

At the end of the day a clear result to the Great Debate: “Vertical Schools are just a Simple Stor(e)y” was still somewhat up in the air. The general consensus being that vertical schools are something of a complex story – but definitely a designer’s dream.

Janet Buchan and Dani Martin

Debate Images courtesy of Derek Bartels

Treetop Images courtesy of Janet Buchan

This page last updated: Sunday 10 November 2019