A Dandy Afternoon on the Peninsula with LE Victoria

Published: Thursday 6 July 2017

To celebrate 13 years of our Chapter’s Awards program, the Victorian Chapter of Learning Environments Australasia recently visited two of the 2016 Awards recipients.

Unlike other architectural awards programs, LEA Awards take into consideration more than functionality and aesthetics. Though both projects visited are attractive, LEA Awards celebrate educational outcomes and the briefing process. Particular emphasis is placed on the engagement of teachers, staff, students, parents, and the broader school community. Both Dandy/Peninsula Afternoon projects, showed the outcome of a robust and thorough collaboration process.

The first site visit was the 2016 Category 2 Winner for New Individual Facility. This project was the Technical Education and Trade Training Centre at Somerville Secondary College by Gray Puksand. The Awards Jury was “impressed by the collaborative approach taken by the design team to the briefing, planning and design of this facility. It is evident that this process enriched the design and quality of the formal and informal learning spaces provided.” As detailed by Chris Scoble from Gray Puksand, the most interesting collaborations was one that is often overlooked. That is with the builder. At the outset of construction, Johns Lyng Group assembled their trades. It was made clear to them that care needed to be taken in the construction of the building. After all, it was being built to educate their next generation of tradespeople.

The Trade Training Centre is designed to create excitement about vocational career paths. A central studio is surrounded by trade, specialist, and small group learning spaces. The flexibility of these spaces provides opportunities for cross-disciplinary interactions. This is achieved through the seamless integration of creative, theory and practical spaces. Materials used are well suited to the College’s rural context. These include rammed earth walls, timber, and metal cladding. Inside, exposed services and an engineered timber structure provides a visible learning tool for students. The quality of the materials and spaces elevates the traditional attitude towards technical training.

The second site visit of the day was the Dandenong South Primary School Junior Learning Centre by Hayball. This project was the 2016 Category 4 Winner for Renovation / Modernisation under $2 million. David Tweedie and Miranda Holt from Hayball presented the Learning Centre which was transformed from a gymnasium into a unique multi-modal environment. As noted by the awards jury.

The transformation of the building from an expansive gymnasium into a series of intimate learning spaces is conceptually and physically impressive. The architects have distanced the building from its previous life and created a welcoming learning space on a scale befitting the junior year’s community.

Due to 2009’s Building the Education Revolution stimulus package, the School had replaced their existing gym with a new facility. The old gymnasium has been upcycled into an environment housing 100 Junior School students. This large internal volume has been broken up with a series of ‘buildings within a building’. These plywood and pinboard clad structures allow whole year level, traditional classroom size, and small group learning opportunities. Small nooks allow individual and one-on-one focused education. Play based learning principles were on display, as children of all ages in our group climbed the tower at the centre of the plan.

The Junior Learning Centre’s teachers provided insight into their experience of the learning environment. At the beginning of each day, students gather in their home bases before dispersing to other spaces. By breaking from standard groups of 25 students, the teachers feel that they are more like a community. The children seem more mature and able to cooperate than students from more traditional classrooms. This level of cooperation has extended to the teachers as well. They have had to coordinate their practices. Loud teachers have become quieter and vice versa. Though there is an openness to the space, the teachers stated that it’s the best of open and closed. They also stated that it is acoustically one of the best spaces in the school. Although planned for younger students, the teachers saw no reason that the design couldn’t be modified for any group across the primary school. Amongst the public debate about ‘open plan learning’, it was exciting to hear teachers talk so positively about their experience with a truly innovative learning environment.

Registration for the 2017 LE Victoria Awards have opened. It will be interesting to see what this year’s awards program yields. AIA Victoria presented their Education Awards on Friday, 30 June. It was good to see previous LE Victoria site tour the Albert Park College ‘Da Vinci Project’ by Six Degrees take out the top honour. Schools such as the DaVinci Project, Sommerville Trade Training Centre, and the Dandenong South Junior Learning Centre prove that some of the best learning environments in the world are in Victoria.    

Article: Wayne Hay

Photos: Lynette Julian