Hayball's Richard Leonard provides insight into the South Melbourne Primary School

Earlier this month Urban Melbourne highlighted the recent completion of the South Melbourne Primary School, located on Ferrars Street within the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area. Designed by Hayball, the new vertical school is the first to be constructed in Victoria and forms part of a wider community hub being developed in the Montague precinct, which will also include the now under construction Montague Park.

Urban Melbourne asked Hayball Director Richard Leonard to provide further insight on the practice's design methodology and process for designing South Melbourne Primary School (SMPS). 

With over 30 years’ experience in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, Richard provides expertise in helping schools integrate modern education philosophies into the design of new educational facilities. Providing design leadership to support contemporary models of learning, Richard champions collaborative and research-driven design, and regularly collaborates with leading education design specialists

Richard will also be Urban Melbourne's guest on this week's podcast where we'll be continuing the conversation on the evolving design of schools and the vertical learning model. In the meantime see below for our Q&A focusing on South Melbourne Primary School.

The design features plenty of light and sweeping views back to the city. Image: Dianna Snape

Urban Melbourne: South Melbourne Primary School has the distinction of being both the first vertical school completed in Victoria but also the first public building constructed within the Fishermans Bend Precinct. Was the idea of legacy in terms of the vertical learning model and SMPS as an exemplar of this typology a key consideration?

Richard Leonard: As the first public vertical model school in Victoria and the first public building in Fishermans Bend Precinct, Hayball’s design of South Melbourne Primary School rethinks the education model for densifying urban environments and how a school operates in its community. These were, however, deliberate design decisions informed by extensive consultation, research and years of architecture experience in education – the concept of “firsts” didn’t play into our approach. For example, extensive consultation with the public and school community informed the amenity mix for the six-level building.

UM: How do you design for an area which is mooted for significant change? When the surrounding context is set to evolve what qualities of the area do you draw upon and what opportunity was there to potentially influence the identity and character of the Montague Precinct?

RL: In a precinct that is one of Australia’s largest urban renewal areas and expected to swell to a community of 80,000 over the next 40 years, future proofing educational facilities was a critical factor in ensuring the suburb can evolve and behave according to the needs of its residents. 

South Melbourne Primary School incorporates 21st Century learning spaces for students to learn and grow in their evolving and dense inner-urban environment. For example, students have the opportunity to learn in a series of vertical spaces that embrace contemporary education thinking, while maintaining elements essential to typical schools like active play spaces, natural light, interconnected areas and pick-up/drop-off zones.

We were fortunate too that the Department of Education & Training and the City of Port Phillip decided to opt for a fully integrated school and community facility. The school will be a key community hub - remaining open after-hours to encourage community interaction and providing spaces that are both community-based and shared with the school.

South Melbourne Primary School's design sits within a very urban setting. Image: Dianna Snape

UM: Hayball was involved in some concept and feasibility work for a vertical school down at Docklands. How much of that work and learnings from that project were useful in informing the design of SMPS?

RL: Hayball has been involved is several conceptual studies for vertical schools, including one for the Docklands area. This study considered a variety of inner-urban school models including a stand-alone vertical school and a dispersed model where the “home base” school facility could be supported by a series of satellite facilities spread around an urban precinct.  But in all cases, the central ideas of providing a school that responds to its urban context and community was consistent. In other words, the school would also act as a community hub.

UM: What examples did you look to both nationally and internationally when designing the school?

RL: When designing South Melbourne Primary School, we looked at European models and particularly in Copenhagen where some of the most innovative vertical schools had been developed. Our site visits reinforced in our minds the need to define learning communities, to consider transparency and visibility between levels, and to creatively resolve the challenges of vertical circulation and external space. More broadly, we experienced how successfully vertical schools can work and how well education can, in fact, be delivered within them.

Translating those lessons into the Australian context was important as was embracing the nuances of our pedagogical approaches, physical locality and urban fabric.  In this sense, the South Melbourne school very much responds to locality and the philosophies of contemporary education promoted and supported by the Victorian Schools Building Authority.       

UM : We're only a few weeks into the 2018 school year but what has the feedback been from students and staff? Is there anything that surprised you in terms of how spaces are used that you may not have expected?

RL: It’s early days and, under the Department’s rolling program to enrol students over time, the school will not reach its full enrolment for several years – in fact, only about a quarter of its full student intake of 525 students is enrolled currently. However, I understand that the early learning centre is running at full capacity already.

The gradual expansion of the enrolments allows the school students and staff to settle in and for the leadership team to develop their management and professional development structures over time.  An important element in this process has been the school’s engagement of new teachers and staff specifically selected for their commitment to contemporary teaching and learning within the vertical facility. The matching of education pedagogy and practices is critical in contemporary environments such as South Melbourne and I am sure that the process of engaging committed staff will ensure the success of the school.    

UM: The SMPS is a great example of schools taking on a greater role in the community with its facilities available to community groups and members outside of school hours. How do you see the roles of schools within communities evolving in the future and the potential for what they can offer particularly in inner-city areas where land is sparse?

RL: The densification of cities and new urban developments is coinciding with the re-imagination of what schools are providing, what they deliver and how they work within the urban and the community context. School buildings are going to have to be more than just a school and with the need for cost effective social infrastructure, these are prime opportunities to develop different models. Whether it’s the school design itself, or how it fits in the community, what size or height it is, or the amenities offered – it’s all around reimagining a new model of school and community. It is vital to design facilities that can be used outside of school hours and have a greater use to the community.

UM: There was a figure quoted on Q&A about the number of schools Victoria needs to build in the next 10 years to keep up with demand - about 220 - do you think the vertical school model can assist in providing greater opportunity in developing inner-city schools particularly with site identification and acquisition? 

RL: In dense inner urban areas there is a need to define the best use of budget and what that means in terms of both 21st century education and in making facilities accessible to the wider community. We should accept that high-density schools are going to be part of our landscape in inner, middle and outer ring suburbs. However, a school is basically a critical community facility that has learning happening in it – so locating it in the right place is much more important than how much land area it has.

 

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