Wellbeing drives design of next generation of Victorian public schools

The mental and physical wellbeing of children is a key design driver for the next generation of public schools, says ThomsonAdsett principal and education specialist Sally Brincat.

The increasingly complex needs of primary school students have been addressed in a bundle of five schools and two early learning centres designed by ThomsonAdsett and Law Architects for the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA). The VSBA has committed to building 100 new schools between 2019 and 2026.

Having worked on over 20 of these schools, Brincat observes that the design of the latest schools, located in suburban Melbourne, was driven by two goals – to help kids feel safe and in control, and to support greater social cohesion in the community.

Wollert Primary School, which was recently delivered under the VSBA Schools program, is cited as the benchmark that is now informing all of the practice’s education projects.

“Wollert Primary School is a supported inclusion hub, designed to integrate children with special needs within a mainstream school,” says Brincat.

“We consulted researchers at Monash University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health to understand how design can support neurodiverse children. Our response minimises noise through better acoustic treatments and breaks up large areas of white walls, introducing calming, darker colours that give emphasis to the natural landscape outside.”

Design elements at the school help kids to stay calm and focused. Breakout spaces offer respite to children needing time away from the busy classroom and the use of natural materials such as timber and brick creates a homelike, non-institutional feel across the entire campus.

Another factor that drove design considerations revolved around connecting students to nature.

“It’s proven that connection to nature has a positive impact on children’s ability to learn,” says Brincat.

“We worked closely with engineers Taylor Thomson Whitting to reengineer the standard classroom buildings so that the landscaping can come right up to the edges.”

The team worked with Outlines Landscape Architecture to integrate colour and texture into outdoor spaces and create joyful and immersive environments. The landscaping encourages outdoor activity and provides a stronger visual connection to nature from inside the classrooms. Bay windows projecting into the gardens provide contemplative spaces for children.

The landscaped spaces also provide the right environment for families to gather, aligning with the VSBA’s goal to position schools back at the centre of local communities. All new schools have multipurpose facilities on site that are accessible to the wider community.

Wollert Primary School features a community building delivered through the VSBA bundle model but managed by the local council. Along with spaces for a kindergarten as well as a maternal health clinic and allied health services, the building will also have a cafe in future that opens to a generous entry plaza to provide a welcoming social space for the community.

“Our team worked hard to achieve very high design standards within tight budgets, harnessing the economies of scale that the bundle model enables,” Brincat says. “The projects delivered under the VSBA program to date have set a new benchmark for public schools. The Victorian government recognises the long-term value that good design, including allocated landscaping budgets, brings to students and communities.”

This article was originally published on Architecture & Design

Photography credit: Dianna Snape