A collaborative and tactile design process achieves unexpected outcomes
Located in a metropolitan suburb of Melbourne, the design for Essex Heights Primary School is inspired by the composition of an 'oyster' - strong on the outside and beautiful on the inside. The school of a 450 student population prides itself on the ability to provide a unique educational setting, where a significant population of Special Needs children can operate confidently in a mainstream environment.
The brief for the project was to create a facility that would continue to celebrate this individuality where children of all physical and mental abilities can learn alongside one another in a completely uninhibited manner. Together, through an extensive consultative process with the school community, the design encourages a more flexible approach to learning in both an indoor and outdoor environment.
In line with the changing face of education, a circular and entirely accessible colonnade flanks an outdoor amphitheatre uniting three Learning Communities in which cohorts of 150 students can engage in a variety of modalities of learning. Within each Learning Community are homerooms co-joined with semi-transparent sliding walls and united by a collaborative space in which wet areas and resource facilities are located. The use of colour and texture has also been throughout to provide identity to each building. Unlike traditional school grounds which would encompass an oval, hard courts and play structures, the landscape environment has been designed to be more akin to a miniature botanical gardens.
The amphitheatre provides the pivot point from which all circulation and visual connection to and from the site are derived. The layering of architecture and landscape creates a diversity of spaces to provide relaxation, contemplation, informal learning and active play areas through the creation of spaces such as sculpture gardens, grassy mounds, mazes, productive gardens and learning terraces. In this garden setting, everyone has a learning space in which they can feel at home.