The refurbishment of school facilities can be precarious. The educational integrity of the building must remain intact, and the new building must remain true to the values of the school and surrounding classroom blocks. Cox Architecture was sounded out by St Aidan’s Anglican Girls School to create an Innovation and Design Hub in the confines of a 1960s arts building that would tailor for the needs of the contemporary student. The result is a smartly constructed learning space that allows for young minds to hone their skills in the classrooms, with various other additions allowing for the creative circuitry of the brain to run wild.
Immediately after addressing the tight budget that cast doubt over Cox’s ability to knock down and rebuild, the design team and school leadership team ultimately decided to re-use the existing classrooms and industrial exterior of the building. The oldest classroom blocks in the school, the Campus Link was very much a historical artefact to the graduates and current students of St Aidan’s. The interior, on the other hand, was gutted, in an attempt to create the ultimate modern learning space within the budget provided.
The brief requested that Cox place a strong focus on wellness and student-centred education. The practice decided that the building should play host to various diverse and flexible spaces, with the money saved on not altering the exterior crucial in the interior overhaul. Courtyard areas that were intriguing and open allow for formal and informal learning and leisure time. Full height glazing and louvres were relied upon to bring a contemporary feel to the industrial-styled building, replacing solid classroom walls and high level windows. The changes also created cross ventilation that flows through the building and its classrooms.
The ground floor classrooms are in fact workshops, multimodal learning spaces that encourage collaboration between students. The finishes are durable to ensure that any materials within the classrooms do not damage the walls or structural integrity of the classroom. Folding doors open up the workshops onto both courtyards, and encourage classes to spill out into the landscape for group based learning.The courtyards also serve as an exhibition and gathering space for events, which provides versatility and the ability to host multiple events at once for the school as opposed to using only the COLAs or Hall.
Small cantilevered timber ‘nests’ that allow for down time and focussed group collaboration between students during school time are featured within the existing corridors of the building. The courtyard canopy forms are designed to capture prevailing winds into the spaces. Both canopies are supported off the existing structure to keep the ground plane as open and flexible as possible. The project was met with many latent conditions and involved crucial design and structural resolution with consultants, mainly due to the existing structure. Despite these challenges Cox were able to move beyond them to realise the full potential of the building. The practice also adopted an innovative method of using virtual reality through a phone app to uniquely communicate design ideas and flourishes with various stakeholders in an effort to remain on the same page. The technology is relatively unheralded, and is only being used in some circles, but ultimately was a major factor within the build.
Keeping much of the industrial influence intact, Cox Architecture and St Aidan’s have created a building that is tailor-made for the modern student. Plenty of purpose-built places to relax and focus in on various tasks are scattered through the hallways, and the careful planning has allowed for modern touches such as cross-ventilation, full height windows and cantilevered nests that cater for many aspects of student life at school in the modern era.