Armourpanel timber finishes by Big River Group were extensively used to showcase and enhance the original features of two heritage listed buildings, which were combined to create the new Albert Park College campus in Port Melbourne, Victoria.

The two buildings – a historic hall and a post office – were transformed into an award-winning educational facility by Six Degrees Architects. The impressive Albert Park College Year 9 Environmental Arts Hub campus represents an adaptive reuse of the heritage naval drill hall built in 1911 and the Sandridge post and telegraph office, built in 1862.

According to Simon O’Brien, Director of Six Degrees Architects, they designed the building to complement the original architecture, highlighting the qualities and intricate details of the historic buildings.

Big River Group’s Armourpanel timber finishes were utilised to enhance the original timber floors, create warmth and texture, and visually connect the campus.

Since the new school campus was designed specifically for Year 9 students, the project required a material that was both hardwearing and durable, and would sit comfortably within the heritage context. O’Brien explained that the plasterboard alternative usually associated with government schools would have been an injustice to the history of the buildings and was also likely to be damaged within weeks.

Six Degrees Architects designed the new campus by adapting the existing mezzanine and lower floors of the buildings into large teaching and learning spaces, while retaining the drill hall as a multipurpose performance and teaching space. The spacious drill hall building features a stepped timber seating area made from Big River Group’s Blackbutt Armourpanel engineered plywood, connecting the two levels and acknowledging the building volume, while increasing the usefulness of the space for performance and large group activities.

Viewing the post office building as a unique piece of Victorian history, the architects worked carefully to conserve the structure. This included stripping the post office to its original finishes and preserving it in an elegantly unfinished state. The cellular brick spaces were transformed into administrative, meeting and music rehearsal rooms, with Big River Armourpanel selected for the ceilings and walls to complement the exposed brickwork as well as blend with the building’s original features.

The architects also ensured that the heritage structures were separated from new external built forms, with the latter clad in subtle and recessive materials to maintain the original layout. The new lift tower and stairs are located to the rear of the building to activate the laneway and minimise visual impact on the main heritage facades.

Considered Australia’s strongest decorative plywood, Big River Armourpanel has been designed, tested and approved to tolerate extremes of heat and humidity as well as resist shrinkage. These characteristics make the material ideal as flooring, ceiling or wall linings in hardwearing areas.

The Albert Park College project used approximately 300 sheets of Armourpanel plywood made from native Australian timber for the floors, ceilings, walls and joinery. O’Brien chose Big River Group’s plywood for the internal finishes for its long life, durability, warmth and appearance value.

The Albert Park College Environmental Arts Hub was recognised with two awards at the recent 2017 Victorian Architecture Awards, winning the John George Knight Award for Heritage Architecture; and the Henry Bastow Award for Educational Architecture.

In this video, Simon O’Brien, director of Six Degrees Architects and Albert Park College principal Steven Cook discuss the design and use of Big River Group's Blackbutt Armourpanel in the design.