Mury Architects used Viridian glass as an integral component of an innovative school design that has won several accolades including Viridian’s 2011 Vision Award for Best Commercial Interior.

A key objective of designing educational institutions is to create a stimulating learning environment. Mury Architects faced a far more specific challenge when they were commissioned to extend the teaching space at Giant Steps, a Sydney school for children with autism.

In addition to creating an innovative learning environment, integrating the new space with as little impact as possible on the heritage building was a priority.

Mury Architect designed a graphically identifiable space with a large central skylight and no surface mounted distractions, using natural light, colour and texture to create a multipurpose classroom, while also remaining sensitive to the building’s state heritage listing.

Bespoke glazing in the roof plane has enabled staff to capitalise on the traits of autistic behaviours to enhance motivation, and increase opportunities for learning and social interactions.

Architect Chris Mury explains that Giant Steps sought a design that would support innovative teaching techniques for children who are confronted with many lifelong challenges. The design objective was to create a focal point to the room that could be used to help them achieve it.

Glazing was integral to achieving this connection between design and learning.

The architect’s solution consisted of a 140m² column-free, domed teaching space supported by a steel structure and featuring an undulating standing seam roof with a large curved oculus, manufactured by Bent and Curved Glass using Viridian glass.

Additionally, the classroom features two walls of glass stacker doors, measuring three metres high and comprising 10 leaves, consisting of clear Viridian safety glass specified in Alspec frames.  

Chris says that the stacking door composition is practical and safe, and can easily be arranged to one side without exposing the glass dangerously.

The room also features several elements designed specifically to enhance the students’ learning experience.

For instance, children with autism may get distracted by artificial lighting. The design incorporates a ceiling that is completely free of visible lights. Artificial lighting instead comes from upwards shining lights built into the cupboards.

To suit the needs of children who do not respond well to extreme temperature change, the air conditioning has been designed to blow up onto the ceiling with the curvature distributing it around the room instead of blowing directly onto children.

As children with autism generally respond to visual rather than audible cues, felt panels in colour matched to the yellow Gyprock ceiling and cabinetry were provided, allowing work and instructions to be pinned up with Velcro. The felt panels enable the teachers to use a sequence of visual prompts to communicate with the children.

Circulation flow in the building has also been designed around the routine based patterns typical of many autism sufferers.

Chris explains that the room is both rigidly organised and very free, a successful dynamic that is now being considered by other specialist schools.

The innovative design has won Viridian’s 2011 Vision Award for Best Commercial Interior and was also listed as a finalist in the Australian Interior Design Awards for Colour in Commercial Design and Dulux Colour Awards.

Additionally, the project received a commendation in the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects’ Architecture Awards.