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Wahroonga Preparatory School, Sydney, Australia

Wednesday 31 Aug 2011

Gold at the end of the Rainbow

Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia
GGF Architects, Photographs by ArchiShot & Tanja Milbourne Photography. 
Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia Wahroonga Preparatory School by GGF Architects in Sydney, Australia
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Australian school provides a bright and colourful environment for children and the local community. 

Wahroonga Preparatory School is a co-educational school of the Uniting Church catering for children from Pre-School to Year 6. Wahroonga Preparatory School provides a caring and supportive environment where academic achievement is encouraged and the uniqueness, personality and talents of the individual are valued and developed in an atmosphere which fosters tolerance, kindness and respect.

The development of social flexibility, acceptance and respect for property, self and others is essential to the school’s ethos. The schools premises are on a very restricted site behind a series of heritage buildings, without a street presence or identity. This complex set of restrictions has hampered the further development of the school and has seen it as one of the area’s best kept secrets. While the opportunity to provide a physical presence to the street does not exist the development of the schools facilities offered the opportunity to not only update the classrooms and add new facilities but to provide an identity to the school.

Alterations to the school were undertaken as part of the Federal Governments ‘Building the Education Revolution’ (BER) funding scheme. A number of options for expansion of the school building and playgrounds were considered well before the advent of the BER program, including options to purchase adjoining parcels of land; reconfiguration of areas and uses within the current curtilage and others. Following this examination it was resolved to increase the bulk on the upper levels within the existing ‘L’ shaped footprint to accommodate additional classrooms, library, music room and ancillary facilities. Other core elements of the brief included site and building accessibility and refurbishment of the existing ground floor including lobby and main entry.

The aims and objectives of the design brief included the need to ameliorate and enrich the school environment primarily for the children that inhabit the space; to adaptively reuse the school building while having minimal impact on the heritage significance of the adjoining church and hall complex and its setting, ultimately bringing together a history of renovations into a cohesive aesthetic.The intention was that the adapted building should respect and retain the heritage significance of the church group while adding a contemporary layer that would provide value for the future.

School principal Mrs. Margaret Mead describes the new building as ‘bubbly, colourful and happy. Bright disposition’ A pleasant physical environment is conducive to high self-esteem and pride in belonging. Externally, the school building becomes an extension of the playground, enriching the students experience through its playful colour scheme. Internally, each classroom is unique, providing the teachers and students with a pride in belonging to an individual space within the school. Mrs. Mead says ‘The building is a very light beautiful space which has had a very positive impact on the staff and students at the school. The parents are thoroughly impressed with the building.’

North facing clear storey windows provide an abundance of natural light and strategically placed windows encourage natural ventilation, providing a building that functions with the natural environment. The classrooms are proportioned to work specifically with the needs of the school with moveable walls allowing flexibility to expand rooms into open learning areas.


Since its inception in 1926 the school has provided an important service for the local and wider community. It was therefore important for all stakeholders to be consulted during the design process thus ensuring a thoughtful, informed design solution. This approach ensured the new facilities catered not only for the school community but also the St John’s church congregation and other local organisations.

The building has also raised heritage awareness and bolstered the significance of the St John’s group of buildings, whilst increasing the cultural, financial and heritage value of the site. The longevity of the building is assured because of its cultural and aesthetic contribution to the value of the surrounding environment, children and wider community.

The redevelopment of the school’s modest buildings has also allowed the schools identity, as an important member of the local community to emerge and be given physical form. The schools building draws on the heritage fabric of its context for inspiration and provides a new landmark stitched into this fabric to act as an ongoing presence for education on this compact parcel of land.


Building systems which reduce the reliance of artificial controls for the indoor environment (lighting, mechanical, acoustics etc) were used throughout the school and a strong focus was placed on technologies with have a sustainable approach, such as a solar electric system (photovoltaic panels).


Funding made available from the Australian Government Nation Building – Economic Stimulus Plan together with its own funding allowed the school to progress its plans for expanding the school to meet the growing needs of the community, modernise its facilities and upgrade infrastructure. A good example of this is the introduction of solar panels which are connected into the electrical grid, in times of surplus energy production, the solar system provides the school with an income through Government assisted rebates.

The new buildings also offered the ability to maximise the schools business model on its constrained site. The introduction of dedicated facilities for music and art provide certainty for these programmes and allow the school to offer a broader curriculum expanding on its current offering. Importantly for the future viability of an innovative small school like Wahroonga Prep the scheme provides a series of consistently sized rooms that can adapt over time to alternative teaching styles and class formats. This is seen as key to the schools ability to react to changing needs based on the changing demographics of the school community and the building effectively ensures the schools ongoing ability to remain relevant to the local community over time.


As sustainability has become a widely recognised issue, the teaching of ecological practices has grown to be an integral part of the school curriculum. A number of sustainable development choices were introduced during the design phase that could be utilised as teaching material including recycling the building’s resources, introduction of sustainable technologies and materials amongst many others, demonstrating both the school and church’s commitment to sustainability and stewardship.

The solar panels installed on the school building not only provide an energy source for the school but also the adjacent church buildings. In times of surplus energy, the solar system feeds back into the electrical grid, providing energy savings for the school and church. As a teaching tool, the solar panels are utilised to inform the students about issues such as climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and methodologies for creating sustainable change.

Additional energy saving principles were developed into the school design. These included northern orientation with energy efficient glazing to maximise natural light to the internal learning spaces, the strategic location of windows encouraging cross ventilation and thus reducing the need for internal cooling systems and sensor lighting minimising consumption.


A core focus of the design was to provide essential facilities which were poorly accommodated in the original building. Specifically, the brief called for an art room, music and a library area (previously located in hallways and classrooms). The design of these areas is an extension of the playful façade with brightly coloured furniture integrated with windows at various heights. Mrs. Mead says the new facilities ‘…have added substantially to our program’ and ‘enrolments for 2012 and beyond have increased due to the new facilities we have to offer.’

Primarily the building and its setting provides an exciting environment for the children, adding a level of stimulation that was absent in the original dull institutional building. The flexibility of teaching spaces offered in the new building and the ability to adapt the rooms, which are arranged in pairs, to act as a year group or class group by movement of a folding wall allows for optimisation of teaching methods and the provision of far more targeted teaching.Overall, Mrs. Mead says ‘The atmosphere is extremely positive from all members of the school community towards the new building and the influences it has had on learning.’

GGF Architects

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