The walk around the Melbourne’s Ivanhoe Grammar Senior Years and Science Centre is rather a kaleidoscopic experience. The spin of dynamically put together timber fins in a circular formation has a certain appeal that catches the attention within seconds with a burst of colours in its centre. And this is the work of Robert McBride and Debbie Ryan of Australia-based architecture firm, McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) who were commissioned to give a new lease of life to the existing Ivanhoe Grammar School.
MCR also bagged the WAN Colour in Architecture 2016 Award for the commanding design of this school. However, the building’s selling point doesn't revolve around its colours but also the configuration that goes beyond its colourful front.
As an extension to the school, the new brief was for a new Science and Senior Years Centre. The proforma included a variety of general learning areas, provision for the senior year teachers and a science centre that will be used by also the younger students in the school.
Ivanhoe Grammar School is a co-educational school established in Ivanhoe in 1920. Then, a rural setting punctuated by magnificent red river gums surrounded the Plenty Campus of Ivanhoe Grammar School. Despite the encroaching suburbs, the school has retained a character where the native landscape flavour dominates the campus.
At the heart of the campus, the original buildings are set out in a formal arrangement based on the metaphor of the Town Square. Subsequent additions to the campus, executed in a variety of architectural styles, have a looser relationship with this formal centre.
The circular shaped plan is adopted for the building. It is a shape that has an appropriate civic quality, which seems to build upon the schools original master plan. The circular plan is an alluring one for architects. Clearly it is a definitive human mark upon the landscape, and yet its many precedents, from Grounds to Stonehenge to indigenous gathering, show that it can, perhaps paradoxically, coexist with and not disrupt a native landscape.
Rather than adopting a circular or radial pattern dictated by the shape of the plan, the architects choose to overlay an angular geometry. This geometry is used to define the central courtyards, the light wells and a mosaic of learning spaces. It contrasts and disrupts the building’s circular motif, highlighting key entry points and providing a distinction between the outer world that is defined as singular, civic, circular and executed in a muted landscape palate; and the inner world that is complex, dynamic, expressive and colourful.
The architecture is configured in the most unexpected way. Commanding a strong yet understated presence, the black steel framed exterior surfaces with rhythmic fins reflect the surrounding neighbourhood; creating a harmonious connection between the existing building and the environment.
In its most complex and expressive state, the main entrance takes visitors to a whole new journey with a blend of shocking pink, apple green, turquoise and orange; colour-blocked. The zigzag of building orientations including its separate design elements are all put together in a very playful manner. Offsets from negative spaces give shape to planters while seating spaces are put designed to complement the criss-cross puzzle-like layout plan.
Great consideration has been given to the configuration of the learning spaces. Some of the key characteristics include the transparency into and between spaces; a variety of spatial type; interconnectivity and transitions; multiple functionality; flexibility as well as adaptability of the learning spaces.
The central courtyard is truly an inviting space to simply ‘break-away’ from the monotony of classroom-learning. Surrounded by colourful ‘blocks’, the grass patch dotted with colourful seats is considered a happy place for students. The voids within the internal space also create sufficient positive and negative areas to allow the premise to build its visual impact. The spatial quality is clearly defined with unexpected extrusions and recessed walls.
As one walks away into the classrooms and science labs, the colours dissolve into muted tones and slowly to white. The lab for instance is entirely in crisp white with a tiny hint of subtle tones from the exterior fins; visible from the peripheral windows.
The contrast so evident in this building’s language encapsulates the contemporary pedagogical approaches for a well-rounded education. The classic circular form represents the order and certainty of knowledge, while the building’s expressive and complex inner world represents the uncertainty of modern life and scientific understanding, and the necessity of wonder and imagination to see us through.
A print version of this article was originally published in d+a issue 98.