Following on from our successful work with Hewison House, the main administration building at St Michael's Grammar School, we were given the opportunity to design the refurbishment of Marlton House; the inaugural school building, circa 1895.
After consultation with the teachers and students, we identified several key directives for the design. One of those, resulting in discussions with the students, was the desire to make the classrooms feel connected to the landscape. Typically, heritage buildings have small openings and apertures allowing limited natural light and can feel disconnected with their external environment. Such was the case with Marlton House. However, we sought to evoke a sense of nature with a palette of green hues, and a custom-designed carpet motive; inspired by leaf debris found in the forest. Our approach was similar to our previous work with Hewison House. In that, the building was full of character, but we took a more playful approach in keeping with a youthful learning environment. The joinery design was born from the functional need for more storage and the aesthetic drive for a dramatic element; to ground spaces. We choose to include a whimsical, random element of a bold cobalt blue arch; symbolic of the school's embracive attitude for individuality. A standout feature, suggesting it's okay to be different.
How a school building steeped in history was given new life, and the impact it had on learning ?
St Michael's Grammar School had a problem. They had an ageing facility, namely Marlton House, and a group of youthful, vibrant students who used the rooms of the building as their classrooms. You can see the paradox. So how did they make it work? Working with Christopher Elliot Design; who established a unique vocabulary for the design that is both playful and serious; was critical to the success of the renovation.
Christopher Elliott Design is adept at working with heritage buildings, having previously worked with Victorian and Edwardian architecture across the residential and educational sectors.
'We love working with old buildings full of character, especially when our clients allow us to take a progressive approach .' says Christopher Elliott
After consultation with the teachers and students, Christopher and his team identified several key directives for the design. One of those, resulting in discussions with the students, was the desire for classrooms to feel more connected to the landscape. Children maintaining a sense of connection with nature is commonly considered as positive, particularly during their early development years.
Christopher says 'People's emotional response to their space was a big consideration in the refurbishment; the learning environment is known to affect students retention of information'.
Before the extensive works; that included new flooring, painting, joinery and lighting throughout; was the significant repairs needed for the building's structure. Highlighting the true state of the interiors before the transformative work had begun.
'Rooms felt drab, uninspiring, and full of unnecessary visual clutter' says Christopher.
The impetus for the design concepts was brought about by the need to address these negative qualities. And with this in mind, Christopher and the team took inspiration from quintessential Australian bush landscapes, filled with Eucalyptus trees; resulting in a Silvery Green colour used on the walls.
The colour was selected because it gave 'life' to the spaces but was ultimately calming and felt settled. The designers carefully curated the design to reflect the landscapes that inspired them, but they were conscious it was not too literal. However, a custom-designed carpet motive; inspired by leaf debris found in the forest was their one concession. Another element of the design worth mentioning is the Klein blue colour that jumps out at you amongst a sea of green. Randomly positioned on joinery as a door or shelf, it is one of the first things you see, but its purpose is subliminal. School environments can be a tough place for some and standing out isn't always appreciated. So the suggestion with the bright blue is 'it's OK to be different', and that can mean a lot to not just a few.
What was the brief?
Refurbishment of a heritage listed building that forms part of the primary school at St Michael's Grammar School. Most rooms required additional resources, and the building had an inconsistent style. Overall the approach was to create a cohesive design to meet the needs of a progressive learning institution.
What were the key challenges?
The building is old, and only minor structural changes were allowed. The general tone of the interiors was dull and uninspiring, and the students requested a design that would inspire. Also, the teachers wanted spaces that can adapt to their ever-changing educational requirements.
The challenge was, how to achieve the functional aspects of each space, and create positive, flexible environments that embrace the historical features of the building.
What were the solutions?
Colour was a critical component of the design used to create impact and evoke a quintessential landscape. We were aware that classrooms are messy spaces, so we designed joinery to minimise visual clutter. Another consideration was the general height of students and ensuring the storage was accessible to them. All rooms have vast ceiling heights and although this provides a great sense of space, it could be overwhelming to children. This resulted in us determining a reduced level for the feature wall colour, and joinery. Which enables students to feel more comfortable with the proportions of the rooms.