Ravenswood Mabel Fidler Building: Stairway to Learning
A transformation building that provides an insight into the 21st Century school.
The new Mabel Fidler building at Ravenswood School on Sydney’s north shore is a transformational building that provides an insight into the 21st century school.
The design of this building was initiated through a master planning process focused on creating an attractive, imaginative and stimulating learning environment. The design responded to the school’s brief to produce an environment that empowers students and facilitates self directed learning. Importantly the new building finally provides Ravenswood with a new front door and real heart of the school.
The new library spaces bear little relation to traditional library design, the focus is on flexibility and the opportunity for students to come together in large groups or retreat to quiet spaces for individual reading. A large timber stair, wittily called ‘La Scala’, is a surprising and dominant feature that serves the functional purpose of connecting two levels of the space and also acts as a grandstand providing seating to watch movies or a share a lecture. It also offers views across the library entry and out into the sports-field beyond.
By raising the library onto the upper level dramatic cantilevers were created under which are a number of different spaces protected from the elements where informal learning can take place. This also creates a perception that the library is floating, with its light, white cladding above the school. There are a series of link bridges from the library to existing buildings that finally makes the circulation work in the school. The choice of materials also responds to the latest technological developments, whilst the lower levels are finished in brick making the link back to the material of the older school buildings, the upper levels are clad in a polycarbonate material that is being used for the first time on a non-industrial building in Australia. This allowed the internal walls of the library to be finished in translucent white glass that can be written on, thereby increasing the informality and flexibility of the learning experience.
Contributing to the energy generated by these new spaces is a café adjoining the library that enables the whole school community to come together, students, teachers and parents. The building has also implemented the latest environmental technology with a double skin façade that creates a cavity that in winter is kept closed to retain heat and in summer opens automatically to release heat. Energy usage will be further minimised by the incorporation of opening windows that are positioned to create cross ventilation with a back up air-conditioning system for the hottest days. As pedagogical theories and technology are rapidly changing the learning environment this building is a look into the future of education spaces.