The Gee-LONG DAY OUT: Exploring multi-faceted innovation

Published: Monday 12 June 2017

On 22 May 2017, the Victorian Chapter of Learning Environments Australasia (LEA) hosted a tour of three education facilities in the Geelong region. This included projects that have won an LE Victoria Award and two Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) awards.

LEA tours highlight innovative education facilities. But what makes an education facility innovative? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that there are four different types of innovation:

Most LEA tours highlight how architecture, as a product innovation, responds to contemporary pedagogy. The GEE/long Day Out highlighted some of the other variants of innovation.

AIA Gold Medal winning architect Peter Elliott started the day with a tour of Geelong Grammar’s School for Performing Arts & Creative Education. The School includes a multi-purpose hall and black box theatre. Both spaces are wrapped by folded metal screens externally. At night, the building’s lighting allows the façade to act as a beacon for the campus. Inside automated window shutters, acoustic treatments, and retractable seating allow the multi-purpose hall to function in a variety of modes. The building’s technologies have allowed a process innovation to occur. These affordances allow the hall to be used for exams, dinners, lectures, and different performance types. The fact that the multi-purpose hall is regularly booked out is evidence of its effectiveness. The technologies that allow this process are hidden rather than overt.

CADET at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds campus by Gray Puksand was the second stop of the day. Mark Mitchell from Deakin University and architect Mark Freeman provided the tour of the facility. The briefing process for the design took six months and interviews with 500 laboratory technicians. To accommodate this briefing process, the design team was split into two groups. One concentrated on briefing and internal spaces allowing the second team to focus on the building shell. Unlike Geelong Grammar, the technology at CADET was overt. Highlights included the Virtual Reality and High Voltage Labs.

CADET biggest success is that it allows multiple engineering disciplines to occupy the same building. The result has been an organisational innovation bringing together disciplines that were previously siloed. This has encouraged women and others to consider engineering as a career option, whereas they might not have before.

The Geelong Library & Heritage Centre by ARM Architecture was the last site for the day. The Library and Heritage Centre occupies the site of the old library. It is at the centre of Geelong’s arts and cultural precinct. Its compact site required the building to be vertically organised. Each floor is dedicated to a particular use: the children’s library, adult library, heritage centre, staff workspace, and function centre. The iconic nature of the design makes the building seem larger on the outside than it is on the inside. More than any other, marketing innovation is the most evident at Geelong Library. Architect Peter Bickle pointed out that ARM looked at traditional libraries and their design for inspiration. The geodesic dome of the new Library provides new packaging for the traditional process of housing and distributing books. However, nothing shows the Geelong Library’s marketing prowess more than its number of visitors. Since opening in November of 2015, the Library has had over 80,000 visitors. Prior to this, the Heritage Centre averaged 4,000 visitors per year. As the Library’s Executive Manage Cathy Ferencz stated, “people come to see the building and are excited by what’s inside.”

Each stop on the GEE/long Day Out was a showcase for innovative architecture. Usually with both LEA and the AIA, we think of innovation as an either/or proposition. It’s either functionally innovative or aesthetically innovative. With this tour, it’s interesting to consider the other ways that innovation can be defined. Maybe innovative designs can be both/and rather than either/or?

Bibliography

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2005) The Measurement of Scientific and Technological Activities Oslo Manual: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data, 3rd edition. 3rd edn. Paris, France: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Article: Wayne Hay

Photos: Bella Bower