Schools are busy spaces that are constantly subject to the rough and tumble of everyday activity and play. It is important, therefore, that educational buildings are constructed with hardy, durable and resilient materials that not only stand up to the challenges and are easy to maintain but also help create spaces conducive to learning.

The brief for the new Integrated Studies Centre at Macarthur Anglican School in Sydney’s south-west specified that the materials needed to be tough and as maintenance-free as possible. The centre, which combines Science, D+T, Art, ICT, Agriculture and Maths into a single facility, was designed by Mayoh Architects.

The curved, split-level design centres around a landscaped garden, allowing for cross-discipline study so students can interact with one another through the co-location of labs, workshops, classrooms and breakout spaces. One of the highlights of the new building is the seminar room, which includes tiered seating for whole-of-year-learning, says the school’s IT Systems and Special Projects Administrator, Kent Palmer. This type of learning also helps prepare senior students for university.

The ceiling of the seminar room is Gyprock Rigitone Matrix 8mm Round, an edge-to-edge product that provides excellent acoustic properties to help minimise noise transfer between the different learning areas. The tiered seating is bookended by walls clad with Cemintel Barestone complemented by acoustic tiles. The use of Barestone for selected elements of the interior visually connects the seminar room with the striking exterior, which also features Barestone (along with Cemintel Surround Blackish) to create a cohesive indoor-outdoor flow.

Acoustic management is always a challenge in a school, especially for STEAM subjects, so Mayoh project architect Jonathan Henley relied on CSR products to assist with the acoustics in the new building. With many noisy events occurring throughout the building during the average school day, including the use of industrial machinery, it was important to keep noise transfer to a minimum.

Bradford Insulation was specified for the walls and roof for acoustic and thermal comfort, while Gyprock Ceilings Rigitone Matrix 8mm Round was chosen to minimise sound transfer between the two levels of the building. Indeed the ceilings are particularly impressive, with the plasterwork configured around the rooms’ curves, while maintaining acoustic integrity.

There were a lot of acoustic challenges in this building to consider during the design process, Henley said. “We have timber workshops and metal workshops underneath classrooms, which is great for collaboration between disciplines and staff, but difficult for acoustics.”

“You might be having exams or quiet study in one room and then you'd have workshop activity at the same time.”

Additional acoustic management was provided by Bradford SoundScreen and Acoustigard products behind the Gyprock walls. “We researched the different products and the wall types so we could achieve higher levels of acoustic separation between the different areas,” Henley said.

Air quality being a big challenge for schools in the post-COVID period, the new building was designed to enable cross-ventilation. External louvres can be operated remotely, allowing teachers to open up classrooms to capitalise on external breezes, or close for heating or cooling via the air-conditioning.

Gyprock Ceilings Rigitone was also specified in the classrooms, which is manufactured with Activ’Air technology and has an enduring impact on indoor air quality. Activ'Air was developed by worldwide plasterboard specialist Saint-Gobain that converts VOCs, particularly formaldehyde, into non-harmful inert compounds that are permanently locked in the board and cannot be released back into the air.

The school is situated on 85 acres, including a working farm for the agricultural students; therefore, it was important to specify materials that complemented the surrounding open spaces.

“I think that the mix of the dark Surround, the Barestone, and the timber was the aesthetic that we were going for, surrounded by greenery on the inside and the outside, which made the greenery pop,” he added.