Australian cities are among the world's lowest in density despite experiencing high rates of population growth and an obvious preference for urban living. In order to cater for the estimated 90,000 students expected to enter the school system over the next five years, the Victorian government is looking up.
The Minister for Education James Merlino has revealed plans for a "vertical" primary school in Melbourne's Docklands which will join the ranks of Australia’s newest generation of inner-city vertical schooling.
Minister Merlino last week released the community engagement report, masterplan and design renders for the 3-storey, 535 student capacity school -- located at 259-269 Footscray Rd -- in Melbourne’s inner-west. The Dockland's primary school proposal is a part of a $2.5 billion investment in school infrastructure by the Andrews' government.
Designed by Cox Architecture in conjunction with McGregor Coxall, the project's design team sought input from community members and key stakeholders -- a process facilitated by the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) -- to better understand the local needs and expectations and seek ideas on the community's vision for Dockland's only school.
The VSBA ran a community engagement activity over four weeks, from 24 April to 22 May 2017, capturing feedback through an online survey and comment board, focus groups and community workshops, gathering the insights of over 150 respondents.
The workshops and online survey were developed in consultation with the appointed architects, Cox Architecture, and an education specialist. The community engagement activities used the following design principles as a framework: Learners and learning, diversity, community, wellbeing, sustainability and technology.
Community feedback suggested that the design brief should place key emphasis on sustainable design, landscaping, outdoor learning and play spaces, community spaces, accessibility, support for an inclusive curriculum, celebration of multiculturalism and a provision for future secondary education.
According to the community engagement report, Cox Architecture are designing the Docklands project as a "vertical school", meaning learning spaces will be built over three to four levels. The school will have all the facilities of a non-vertical school, including art and technology spaces, a competition-grade netball court and playgrounds.
The new Docklands Primary School proposal states that the design includes outdoors learning and play terraces, a competition-size indoor court for basketball and netball, and a library and an art room. Its classrooms will be designed to be flexible and responsive, including spaces to support the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The process for developing a new school in Docklands first started in October 2016, when the Victorian Government announced it would build a primary school, with work to start immediately on acquiring a site. In April 2017, the Victorian Government announced the site for a new primary school in Docklands and in May 2017, $1 million was provided in the state budget for planning and design of the new school.
[Related reading: Queensland Government Plans First Inner-City Brisbane School In Decades]
The Docklands proposal comes amidst several other inner-city vertical schools across Australia's capital cities entering into construction in 2017-18.
Recently plans were submitted to the New South Wales government for an 800 student capacity public primary school in the inner-southern Sydney suburb of Ultimo. Projected to cost $30 million, the Sydney school is being designed by a government-appointed consortium comprising DesignInc, Lacoste and Stevenson and Paris-based BMC2.
According to DesignInc managing director Sandeep Amin, the vision for the Ultimo project is a school that seamlessly blends imagination and nature to enrich the early learning journey.
[Related reading: Construction Begins On Victoria’s First Vertical High School]
The consortium, first established in December 2016 has placed importance on connecting nature and the experience of learning. To achieve this, the design team has utilised sensory landscaping, - which is landscaping that appeals to all five senses -- harvest and market gardens, an 800 student hall that overlooks Wentwork Park and learning spaces orientated to maximise natural light and cross ventilation.
Of the 12,300 square metres utilised by the project, 6,000 square metres of it will be dedicated to external learning.
The design team for the Docklands primary school proposal drew inspiration from the work of Takaharu Tezuka, the Japanese architect behind the highly successful Tokyo based Fuji Kindergarten.
Tezuka's design not only won the 2017 Moriyama RAIC International Prize -- which recognises a work of architecture considered "transformative within its societal context" -- but has also received glowing praise by educators around the globe for his approach to positively shaping learning through design.
The school has no play equipment installed and promotes imagination as the architecture itself functions as a giant playground.
The Fuji kindergarten implements the Montessori method of learning, which is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play.
Tezuka has created an educational product that promotes unfettered learning and play throughout continuous space, rather than the traditional educational experiences we are most familiar with that impose physical boundaries. His overall vision was to create a "nostalgic future" for children where they would naturally interact with their surroundings as opposed to choosing to engage with gadgets and screens.
Here's a TEDx talk by Tezuka on the Fuji kindergarten project that is both incredibly charming and fascinating.