Collaboration between parents, students, teachers and architects produces the award winning Margaret McRae Centre

Published: Sunday 28 May 2017

The Victorian Chapter's second event of 2017 showcased an award winning facility that exemplifies colloboration from start to finish.

Designed by Woods Bagot, the Margaret McRae Centre at Ruyton Girls’ School was the recipient of LE Victoria Chapter's 2016 Category 1 Award for New Educational Facility Construction / Entire Educational Facility.

“This building has embraced our values and enabled us to live and teach the way that fits our culture.” - Linda Douglas, Principal

Ruyton’s Students, Principal Linda Douglas, and Jo Dane from Woods Bagot presented the Margaret McRae Centre to the attendees. Originally conceived as the refurbishment of an existing building, the project evolved to the new facility on show. Starting with an extensive investigative period, discussions took place with all stakeholders. Part of this process was an “Anyone Can be a Designer” workshop where students explored the possibilities of the new building. Parents were an integral part of the collaboration as well. By involving them, it helped gain buy in from the entire school community making sure no one was surprised by the outcome.

The outdoor stage at the Centre’s front door occupies a crossroads in the campus’s network of internal streets. Whether it’s providing weather protection or hosting an impromptu performance, this stage is the “heart and soul” of Ruyton. Inside, spaces are non-rectilinear to help identify the building as a new way of learning. The materials reinforce this by reflecting the School’s change in pedagogy and forward looking approach.

The Margaret McRae Centre occupies a tight site between existing buildings. The central space on each floor artistically expresses this tightness with LED lit aluminium ceiling battens that compress in and out at either end. However, as one of the student guides summed up their purpose stating, “they just look cool.”

The Centre’s four floors are connected by a beautiful timber lined stair. Though vertical in nature, the design shuns the usual atrium connectivity of vertical schools. Each floor has its own purpose. The basement level houses an event space and the drama program. Located on the top floor are the science classrooms. Not all science labs are the same. Each lab was workshopped with the teachers to create unique spaces based on each’s area of inquiry. Workbenches and tables in the labs are at the same height allowing fluid movement from theoretical to practical work.

Year 7 and 8 students and staff occupy the ground and first floors. Previously in a very stifled environment, the new learning spaces encourage girls’ natural ability to collaborate. The rooms have no fronts. All walls have wipe board functionality and the teachers’ desks have been removed. Sliding doors between classrooms are opened up on a regular basis to allow team teaching opportunities. One design challenge was how to include lockers without interrupting the flow of space. This has been achieved by using the lockers to help define spaces outside the classrooms for different activities.

With over 90 attendees, this event at Margaret McRae Centre at Ruyton Girls’ School exemplified how a close collaboration between faculty, students, and designers can lead to successful pedagogical and design outcomes.

Article: Wayne Hay

Photos: Lynette Julian