Da Vinci by name, Da Vinci by nature at Albert Park College

Published: Friday 10 March 2017


The Albert Park College ‘Da Vinci Project’ was the first tour for the Victorian Chapter’s 2017 Event Calendar.

It was an excellent project to start the year. This refurbishment of two historic buildings in Port Melbourne demonstrates contemporary school design executed exceptionally well.
Located on Bay Street in Port Melbourne, the school is a standalone campus for Albert Park College’s Year 9 students. The historic nature of the buildings stands in stark contrast to Albert Park College’s modern Danks Street Campus. The “Da Vinci Project’ campus repurposes the former Sandridge Post Office built in 1862 and Port Melbourne Naval Drill Hall built in 1912. The Post Office is now used for administration, music, and meeting rooms. Previously occupied by Circus Oz, the Drill Hall accommodates staff, assembly, and teaching spaces for two hundred students.
The tour began with presentations by Principal Steve Cook, Six Degrees architect Peter Malatt, and four alumni from the ‘Da Vinci Project’. Principal Steve Cook emphasised that two themes dominate the ‘Da Vinci’ curriculum – the environment and the arts. The students detailed their favourite aspects of the ‘Da Vinci Project’ and its unique curriculum. At the beginning of the school year, the students independently select an environmental topic (for example coral bleaching) and throughout the year investigate the theme before presenting their research through an artistic medium. This emphasis on the environment and the arts was carried through the building design. One particularly clever feature is the fish tanks that separate the corridor and Marine Education Centre. Not only is it a practical showcase of the marine environment, but an entertaining way to demonstrate the school’s curriculum.

Architect Peter Malat from Six Degrees presented the space as being ‘elegantly unrestored’. The design approach has been to leave the heritage fabric as untouched as possible, only making good where needed. Existing materials have been salvaged and reproposed where possible. This included timber floors and wall linings from the Drill Hall’s Circus Oz days. There was also extensive use of plywood and other natural materials throughout the project. Peter credits the success of the project to Principal Steve Cook’s persistence.

Albert Park College and Six Degrees have successfully combined many familiar ILE elements in an inventive and unique manner. Classrooms are arranged as ‘double learning spaces’ with the school’s central vertical space including the ubiquitous Hellerup Stair. What is exciting about this design is how familiar elements are executed in an elegant and resourceful manner. Similarly, Leonardo da Vinci as an inspiration for school design dates back to Fielding Nair’s ‘da Vinci Studio’ concept of the 2000’s. The innovation at Albert Park College comes from seeing this concept taken across the entire campus and curriculum.

The students’ spoke of the family like connections developed during their time at the ‘Da Vinci Project’, and how sad they were to leave at the end of the year. Having visited this unique campus for an afternoon, it was easy to understand this sentiment.

By Melissa Thong and Wayne Hay