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With space in urban areas at a premium, schools and early learning centres are increasingly looking upwards. What are the considerations when designing a vertical school?

Many education institutions – both schools and early learning centres - are beginning to think ‘vertically’ to overcome density and population pressures in urban school areas.

South Melbourne Primary School, the first high-rise state school in Victoria, opened its doors at the beginning of the 2018 school year to over 160 students. Richard Leonard, Director at Hayball, the architecture firm behind the innovative new facility, says it is a real reference point for vertical schools in Australia.

The school is located on a compact inner urban site of just over half a hectare. The six-level building will eventually house over 525 primary school students, 44 early learning students, and a number of community services and facilities. The City of Port Phillip contributed to the Early Learning Centre, two community meeting rooms and a community kitchen which also forms part of the school’s canteen. It also boasts a full-size, indoor basketball and netball court that has been contributed in part by Sport and Recreation Victoria.

In a shift from traditional classrooms and teaching models, Leonard says South Melbourne Primary School is designed around ‘learning communities’ of around 150 students that facilitate both age-based and stage-based learning groups. When it comes to outdoor spaces, Leonard says that ensuring there were sufficient outdoor play areas was integral to the overall design. Above the indoor gym there is an outdoor sports area where children can continue to play typical ball games, as well as a climbing play structure.

Hayball also engaged in discussions with the Department of Education and argued very strongly for external learning spaces throughout every level of the building. They saw this as a necessary compensatory gesture to being in the inner city. One of the major considerations for designers was the circulation or flow of children as they move between the learning spaces. A staircase was built that acts as a vertical piazza – it can be used as a meeting space, a teaching area or auditorium seating. “It’s not just a stair to get up and down between levels, it was really an active part of the learning environment,” Leonard says.

Hayball was also appointed architect of the new Richmond High School, which comprises a four-storey academic precinct known as the Griffiths Street Campus and an adjacent Gleadell Street Campus which, when opened in 2019, will comprise of general purpose teaching spaces and community facilities. “I think one of the important things in both South Melbourne and Richmond has been the deep engagement with an educator as part of the planning process,” Leonard shares – in this case, architects worked with Dr Julia Atkin.

While the provision of specialist spaces may be slightly different between primary and secondary, Leonard says there are many consistencies in the way both schools promote the cross-disciplinary aspects of teaching and learning.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.