Delivering positive educational outcomes through design

On Tuesday night I undertook my first adventure down to the Gold Coast for a talk by M3architecture Director Michael Banney. The idea behind their talk was ‘How good design delivers positive education outcomes.’ M3’s work is beautifully creative, so I was looking forward to hearing more about how they create their unique built forms.

Michael firstly presented on a stunning little outdoor studio on a residential site for a musician. The form was beautifully rendered, referencing the Finlandia Hall in Finland, and the old shed that was removed to make way for the new building. Large opening panels and a terraced deck meant the space connected to the backyard, and therefore also the house, and energised the outdoor living spaces to become the best kind of outdoor concert venue – serene, exciting, intimate and able to be shared. Similarly the space could be closed up for those ‘maestro in residence’ sessions when individual work was undertaken.

Although this seemed like a detour of educational architecture example, this process and the resultant building actually showed M3’s emphathetic and fine-grained design philosophy when designing for areas to learn, create and share. Their understanding of space was evident in the usability of not just the built form, but also the connection between and how this enhances the surrounding building.

The first school project Michael presented was their work at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. With a tight land-locked site which needed to expand its student offering, the BGGS was in need of a new masterplan. Using the existing heritage buildings as reference, but knowing the only solution was to go up, M3 created a large block on the corner of the site with dance, drama, arts and general learning spaces. Using simple visual tricks for the facade, and carving the building based on a three-dimensional axis across the site, the overall large form sits neatly in its setting, with open variable spaces facing in to the school, and a bold graphic wall facing the busy freeway.

The next BGGS built work presented was a library and learning area space which was truly extraordinary. The brief from the Principal was based on a space from the book ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ known as the cemetary for forgotten books. Where books are put down, picked up, moved, found and lost. What a fantastic brief! M3 really ran with this idea and created a number of small flexible, interchangeable rooms with rich flooring and circular stairs and small reading areas. A place where the journey to find the book is as important as the finding of the book. Functionally, the library is spread over five levels in small pockets with different spaces inbetween each library ‘room’. I have never seen anything like it, but as a book lover I thought it incredible!

Their final BGGS project presented was the concept plans for the new science Centre, based on the scientific concept of a black hole. The resultant design will have a large open display / circulation space on the middle, with science learning spaces in each of the four corners. Judging on the other spaces M3 has created at the College, I’m sure this will be a fantastic learning area for students and look forward to seeing it complete.

The next school Michael presented was their much-lauded work at Mt Alvernia College. As the school had developed in an ad-hoc manner over some years, the school zones were starting to show inefficiencies, like exposed services from infill projects and small additions over the years. A masterplan was developed to address the current and future stages and the first building and extensive outdoor learning spaces created.

The design influences for the new setting were the result of intense research into the history, background and allegiances of the school. Reflecting on the town of Assisi and St Francis, an Italianate aesthetic developed, with an appreciation of the current beneficial links between external learning spaces and student wellbeing. To this end, a beautifully landscaped external garden space at the school entry, with associated enclosed sacred space, allows students to pause and reflect among their busy school day. Keeping a connection to the demolished buildings on site through re-using material elements like roof tiles as landscaping wall finishes, shows the site evolution and appreciation for history and place.

As always, the real inspiration happens after the presentation when the sticky questions start. As with the MVRDV talk I went to last week, presentations like these often leave you wondering about the role of the client and how they have faith in their architects to create these incredible environments. Luckily their school clients understand the value of learning space and are willing to pay sufficiently for it. There was not a sense in these designs that M3 was wasteful or extravagant, but more that they pushed their sites to realise the full potential of the place for learning. M3 attempts to show the school’s values in their built form, and articulates this to clients in their own language, so their see their beliefs brought forth into building. I found the way they explained their philosophy and intense site/client analysis really interesting and once again I appreciate our industry where we are so open with sharing our processes and projects. Thanks for the insight M3!

Happy learning!

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