Hanging Rock is in the distance, along with the undulating landscape of Mt Macedon and the Macedon Ranges.
For Braemar College, whose senior school has occupied a late 19th century timber pile for years, it was time to expand and create a middle school, less than a kilometre from the main campus.
The result is an award-winning campus (recipient of the Henry Bastow Award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter).
Designed by Hayball for approximately 450 students from years five through to eight, the new Braemar College middle school resembles a group of rural sheds.
“We were mindful of creating a different building typology, given the transitioning of students taking on more independence, away from the single teacher,” says architect David Tweedie, director at Hayball.
With increased independence, whether it’s individual research or centred on group projects, it was important from the outset to set up a unique learning environment.
“When you’re privileged to be working in this setting, the direction was always going to be low and anchored within the rolling landscape,” says Tweedie, who was also mindful of providing an element of surprise.
So students (many arriving by a fleet of buses) and parents, dropping off and picking up meander along the 600 metre-long-road, crossing a creek framed by gum trees.
“It was important to ‘hold back’ and then gradually reveal,” he adds.
The six black steel and glass ‘pods’, together with a separate administration building, are indeed anchored to the earth, only slightly elevated to the northwest.
With a gable-style roof at one end and faceted along the spine, each pod seems to only slightly touch its neighbour.
“We wanted to create a looser separation between the different student levels, while still providing a strong sense of connection,” says Tweedie.
The connections between each of the six pavilions function as meeting areas, some enclosed, together with offices.
The pavilions themselves are all slightly different, some dedicated to science and art labs, while others are used for general teaching.
One of the unique aspects of each internal layout is the absence of walls.
Plywood units, some freestanding, while others form an alcove attached to the perforated ceilings, delineate areas.
“With the generosity of the site, we could afford to almost double the width of a traditional classroom (here being approximately 16 metres),” says Tweedie.
Other separating units include plywood-lined bookshelves and also seating nooks that allow students to work independently rather than in groups.
With the often inclement weather around the mountain, Hayball was also aware of the need to provide outdoor spaces for students.
Along the eastern elevation is a continuous and broad outdoor terrace, covered by a translucent and timber-battened roof.
Complete with built-in outdoor seating, the division between indoors and outdoors is blurred.
As loosely demarcated are some of the washing benches in the art spaces, with half sitting inside, and others outside on the verandah.
“It was important to realise that this isn’t a city campus, where perhaps the idea of going vertical, may be appropriate.
Here, it’s about learning from the land as much as responding to the school’s strong outdoor education program,” says Tweedie.
Although these rural-style buildings appear quite simple, each one has been carefully conceived to ensure that learning within each roofscape’is fully achieved.
Perforated plaster ceilings and carpeted areas minimise the daily heavy traffic of footsteps and nooks of varying shapes and dimensions allow for flexibility in how the spaces are used.
The extensive use of pinboards throughout the buildings also reduces sound levels.
“It is about ensuring flexibility in these buildings, rather than having a fixed and immutable design that may not be appropriate in years to come,” says Tweedie.
There’s also great emphasis on cross-ventilation throughout each form, with large sliding glass doors at either end monitoring the flow of air, particularly during the warmer months.
“We could have perfectly aligned each building.
But this way, there’s greater interaction with the landscape and importantly, an understanding that each of the levels within the middle school, has its own form and identity,” adds Tweedie.
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