Whittlesea Tech School has won the Learning Environments Australasia Educational and Facilities Regional Award for New Construction Under $8m.

The design prepares STEM students for future work by fostering curiosity, transdisciplinary projects and entrepreneurial solutions.
The brief was formidable. Design a welcoming, collaborative centre of technological innovation that prepares a diverse, transient population of 10,000 students (drawn from 14 government, Catholic and independent schools) for a future workforce in which 75% of jobs involve STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).

On Friday Whittlesea Tech School earned ClarkeHopkinsClarke the 2019 Learning Environments Australasia (Vic Chapter) award for a new facility under $8m.

It launched in September 2018 at Melbourne Polytechnic’s Epping campus as part of a 10-school initiative by the Victorian Department of Education and Training developing critical STEM skills in Victorian secondary students.

“Our programs focus on the process of problem-finding, developing empathy, ideation, prototyping, iterating and pitching innovations to stakeholders,” says Whittlesea Tech Director Sandra McKechnie.

“Through transdisciplinary, collaborative projects students learn the skillsets they need to innovate in a ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ model of education. The curriculum focus changes every 6-12 months. So the building needed to provide broad learning settings, technology, connections to industry partners (virtual and face-to-face), and inspirational displays of community, student and industry achievements.

"We needed an array of specialist learning settings: ingenuity studio, innovation workshop, laboratory, digital design and presentation, enhanced with access to small group, breakout and support spaces allowing for long-term flexibility.”

An inclusive atmosphere and seamless wayfinding were paramount. “Student numbers flux from 16 to 160 students, from single or multiple schools and diverse backgrounds,” Sandra says.

“This is also a resource for local community and industry partners, bringing people together to collectively prototype solutions to challenges faced by our community. So we needed a welcoming, comfortable space easily navigated by first-time visitors. ClarkeHopkinsClarke certainly met and exceeded the brief.”
Over two levels, the purpose-built facility links practical workshop and laboratory spaces housing high-tech tools and equipment to auditoriums, an industry hub, conference and meeting amenities, and a double-height central gallery and exhibition space running the length of the building.

Spatial planning and volumetric design drawing strongly on an underlying theme of connectivity. Viewing windows, sliding doors and double-height spaces connect each learning environment with at least two others, allowing learners to organically progress projects through the ideation, production, testing, presentation and exhibition phases.

Also, ‘Mission Impossible’ was commended in the 2020 LEA Regional Awards for a $5 million modernisation.

An unusually collaborative design team led by ClarkeHopkinsClarke turned a rundown, vacant campus in Balwyn into a nurturing, state-of-the-art school for St Paul’s College, transforming life for students with complex disabilities.
It’s hard to imagine a more complex, challenging brief: in just six months, transform a compact, rundown, vacant school in Balwyn into a nurturing, adaptable, state-of-the-art facility with strong indoor-outdoor connection, purpose-built for students with complex disabilities and high needs.

In the process, inspire and engage staff and parents, many of whom are reluctant to relocate out of concern about the impact of upheaval on students.

St Paul’s College is a Catholic specialist school for children with intellectual, physical, profound multiple and sensory disabilities.

A new principal, Tim Hemphill, was appointed to relocate the school from an extremely rundown campus in Kew (larger than the Balwyn site but never built-for-purpose).

Discussions began with ClarkeHopkinsClarke in May 2018 and the modernised Balwyn campus needed to be fully functional for day one of term one, 2019. Failure was not an option.
ClarkeHopkinsClarke’s design response transformed learning at St Paul’s using a site smaller than its Kew campus by maximising every inch, inside and out.

It integrates indoor and outdoor space via glazing, curved internal joinery with playful cut-outs, and curvy external ramps, paths, playgrounds and landscaping.

It transforms the hall into a zone for senior students and opens up the internalised main building, reconfiguring it for junior and middle students and introducing shared spaces including staff retreats, an atmospheric Sensory Room, and a central Discovery Centre with multi-purpose space for gatherings as diverse as planning meetings, assemblies and yoga classes.

A split-level design maximises space and functionality. “That posed some accessibility challenges,” Simon concedes.

“We overcame them by integrating ramps as a design feature. Relocatables were repurposed for services like bathrooms, an art/hospitality space that enabled introduction of VCAL, and an adjacent cafĂ© that opens to the community as required.”
This week this remarkable project was commended in the  Learning Environments Australasia Regional Awards for a renovation or modernisation over $5m.

Tim says these “beautiful new work and play areas have completely transformed the lives of students in our care.”