A Melbourne school’s transition from a legacy campus into a contemporary learning environment received a commendation at the 2020 Learning Environments Australasia – Vic Chapter Awards for a new facility under $8 million.

Located in Melbourne’s south-east, Wellington Secondary College is a high performing, culturally diverse school providing education to several disadvantaged students in a safe and inclusive environment. The mandate for ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects was to take the single-campus school into the 21st century by creating a contemporary educational environment that supported collaboration, transparency and agile learning.

Wellington Secondary College began work with ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects in 2016 on a masterplan for campus revival. There were several challenges including dark learning environments, dated and awkwardly shaped spaces with no access to natural light, disconnection between staff areas and students, and very little space for professional development, social activities or community interaction.

The first stage of the masterplanned project was the two-storey EH Blaikie Vanellus Centre, which was carefully sited to establish a welcoming entrance, and prototyped a new learning environment typology that gave students and teachers the chance to learn and teach in learner-centred spaces while the remainder of the masterplan was completed.

The building features a library and resource centre with genius bar, a maker space, auditorium, general office and administration space, distinct reception infrastructure for students and public, executive offices, staff rooms, spaces for after-school events and a range of agile learning environments.

According to Principal Hugh Blaikie, their brief for ClarkeHopkinsClarke sought to deliver 21st century pedagogy in facilities that were flexible, purposeful and innovative.

“The entire process, from masterplan to handover, was led by our senior leadership team with invaluable input provided from key staff and students. During design and construction, drawings were kept on display to provoke broader conversations and community feedback. We acknowledged early on that these spaces would require proactive change management and staff professional development to ensure a smooth transition, and we believe we’ve achieved that,” Blaikie said.

Architect Audrey Whisker said the commendation received at the LEA Awards was a tribute to the client’s passion for the project. The built form also symbolised the school’s emblem, the Spur Winged Plover or Vanellus, which traditionally hatched chicks there each spring.

Whisker explained that students would regularly halt football and soccer games to protect the birds, a ritual that became an enduring symbol of loyalty, caring and learning.

“We took design inspiration from that and reimagined the bird in origami style with distinctive colouring and wings angled in flight. You can see that reflected from the roofline to the awnings, the yellow exterior wrap and the lines that define break-out spaces,” she added.

The new resource centre encourages collaborative learning through strategic connections, observes ClarkeHopkinsClarke education partner Wayne Stephens.

“The resource centre has a mix of break-out and quiet spaces and centralised genius bar for IT and other support. This opens onto a maker space for hands-on learning and incorporates acoustically versatile, carpeted zones for small group work or individual tasks. The combination of movable and adjustable benches, wet and dry areas and direct connections to outdoor, undercover learning make this a really flexible multipurpose space.

“Upstairs, double classrooms, a tech room and staff rooms have strong physical connections and sightlines through to the central multipurpose area, which can easily accommodate small group presentations and discussions or a whole class. There’s also a thoroughfare that can be used as an exhibition space. Both levels are connected by an auditorium with tiered staircase seating and a digital projection display. So it’s a very versatile design that adapts easily for larger group gatherings, presentations, events, and after-hours use by the local community,” Stephens said.

Photographer: Rhiannon Slatter