Creating community at the evolving Northshore Christian Grammar School, WA

Published: Monday 21 May 2018

The second WA Chapter site visit for 2018 kicked off with a long, long drive north to Alkimos to visit the new and evolving Northshore Christian Grammar School by Broderick Architects (now TRCB Architects).

We visited stage 1 of the eventual K-12 school, which comprises two learning blocks, one for K-PP students and one for Year 1-2 students.

Within the small class spaces there were some really nice clean crisp details which added to the sense of space and calm inside. This is the benefit of good architecture - you can't tell why you feel a certain way, but the sum of the elements of the design combine to create an emotional reaction. In this instance, it was the natural plywood detailing, combined with the light-coloured rammed earth, highlight windows and roof light tunnels, and beautiful interior design selections.

The functional design of the educational spaces is not necessarily unique - paired / triple classrooms around a central activity space - but the way they have been executed elevates the design to create more learning opportunities. The sense of open-ness between spaces contributes to the idea of learning 'anywhere, anytime'.

There are a range of different scales of space offered amongst the buildings. Between the linked class pairings are small 'breakout' spaces that are open to maintain vision between rooms while creating opportunity for individual or small group activity. The planning concept that students can go between classes and venture out in to the large activity space means the whole block is a learning setting, and learning can occur anywhere. Defining different spaces through colour and plywood bordering gives clarity to the variety of spaces available. I really liked the small nook spaces coming off the central activity zones, I could just imagine the myriad of uses they could be put to, considering their size and robust material palette.

Creating a sense of community within a developing area is always difficult. As happened on this project, sometimes we as architects get tasked with creating a new school without a school community or Principal to consult with, which means we often need to base our decisions on theory and hopes rather than the specific pedagogical drivers of the school.

In this case, most of the hopeful design philosophy has paid off. As the surrounding area is still developing, bringing people together is an important additional function of the school. The central activity space functions for external hire so is equipped with AV and kitchen and toilet facilities, and is currently used by more than four community groups each week. External areas include a pizza oven for bringing people together around a fire, an age-old tool for forming connections.

Externally the material choices provide some nice counterbalances to the white and pale, calming interiors. Clean clear-finished equitone, white fibre cement and ribbed metal cladding provide a crisp backdrop to the grey and yellow feature panels, combining the simplicity with a bit of fun. One of my favourite elements was the rainwater guttering system.

As the school is located near the coast, but out of eyeline, Brodericks wanted to keep a connection to water. So there are these beautiful large steel gutter/downpipe structures which funnel all of the buildings water to the front, to gush out onto the play space and provide opportunities for students to play in the water/mud. I love this educational and play device, giving the building an additional layer of functionality as a learning tool.

The design of these two buildings and the masterplanning involved over the site created a fantastic beginning to what will surely be a stunning school when it's finished.

Article and photos: Dani Martin