Magnificent seven

Friday 26 Feb 2010

A student-focused ‘seven schools within a school’ project in Australia’s most disadvantaged urban area

Dandenong High School is an amalgamation of three local campuses, with over 2,100 students, located in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in Australia. The school principals undertook a research tour of leading secondary educational facilities around the world and found that none of the visited exemplars reflected their vision. An intensive 18 month briefing and design process ensued. The resulting brief called for the new campus to erode the typical ‘large school’ model into smaller entities, in which students felt safer and less anonymous.

The lack of available, effectively tested solutions to the unique dilemmas of education design led Hayball to install a real life, real time ‘laboratory’, housed in a relocatable building on the campus. As lessons were learned from the laboratory, design changes were distilled into the new facility. The effect of the new pedagogy on the building’s spaces could not have been more quickly or clearly seen. Hayball has created a ‘student-focused’ learning environment that mitigates the size of the combined campus by planning seven discrete SWIS (School Within a School) buildings, each housing a cohort of about 300 students. These buildings are devoted to strengthening each cohort’s sense of community. Learning studios are arranged around the building perimeter and each open onto a central learning common. Within the open common, clearly defined nodes invite habitation or facilitate a particular activity (media studies, IT, informal gathering). These ‘purposeful’ spaces afford areas of focus and intensity, an evolution of the unplanned open spaces that often result from a call for flexibility.

The outdoor spaces between buildings are more ‘compressed’ than those commonly found in school settings, affording a comfortable, ‘neighbourhood’ quality. Increasing the density of occupation in one part of the site allows large open spaces to remain intact. The project also provides the case study for the Australian Greenhouse Building Rating ‘Green Star’ Education pilot. Key ESD initiatives relating to temperature control, water harvesting and recycling, natural lighting and ample fresh air flow are among many incorporated into the design.

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