Finalist 2022

Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) Gymnasium

McBride Charles Ryan / Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School

PEGS Gymnasium is a charged space for competition and performance. A facility for playing, learning, spectating and contesting.

The Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) Gymnasium and Events Centre is a multipurpose hall for health and fitness, as well as large student events, assemblies and performances. The campus development rethinks the secondary educational space as a kind of wondrous mini city, preparing senior students to become vital, civically engaged members of the community. This latest building is the ‘Palazzo della Regione’ of the mini city - the meeting place of the school community, as well as the place where the school most visibly interacts with the larger community.

The design for PEGS Gymnasium had two key requirements. It was to be a multipurpose hall for health and fitness, and a space for large student events, assemblies and performances. Sited at the centre of the Keilor East campus, the facility was to operate as the civic centre for the school. While the constituent buildings on the campus embody specific pedagogical ideas related to specific stages of education, the Gymnasium is a site for cross pollination between different year levels, sport, performance and debate. The facility was also to be the place where the school most visibly interacts with the broader community - a presentable gateway for parents, spectators and neighbouring schools. These requirements demanded a spectacular facility that was generous in space and had charged connections with the various nodes of the campus.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

Due to the flexible use of the Gymnasium as both a competitive sporting facility and events space, with a capacity in excess of 3,000 persons, stringent regulations were adhered to for both ventilation and egress. These, as well as fixed regulatory, structural and services requirements, became design drivers in the project. Close collaboration with the primary consultant team was a necessity to integrate advice into the design response and increase operational efficiencies.

MCR’s approach involved preserving the existing gymnasium to the east, with significant upgrades made to the structure, floor and finishes. The new facility silently integrates the adjacent existing gymnasium, with a full height operable wall connecting the two buildings internally, doubling the area for performance and competition. A hierarchy of facade systems were established to prioritise budget expenditure on the most critical public interfaces. The natural topography of the site is absorbed by tiered seating on the south and west flanks of the main gymnasium, providing flexible capacity for large school gatherings, spectators or informal teaching. The decision to follow the natural topography had the added benefit of reducing significant costs for excavation and site works.

Design Excellence

PEGS Gymnasium is designed as a permeable building; an approach which thoughtfully provides the required flexible, utilitarian function and an unmistakable civic presence. The building physically and visually connects the two sporting ovals to the north and south. Adopting the typology of a town hall in its grandeur, the south façade of the project is the main civic interface, where scalloped brickwork proudly greets entrants to the school.

The detailing of this novel lightweight brickwork facade system is a testament to the successful collaboration with facade engineers and suppliers. At pedestrian level, the colonnade articulates permeability and draws students and visitors into the gymnasium interior. Brimming with program, the facility contains two full length basketball courts, tiered seating, fitness centre, student amenities, offices, classrooms, storage, multipurpose and function rooms, all within a singular volume.

This intensity strengthens the building’s civic qualities, where diverse events occur within and around. Particular care was given to the combination of materials and colour in floors, ceiling, wall linings and joinery to provide moments of intensity and warmth throughout. The building incorporates fundamental sustainable design principles - its permeable nature incorporates solar shading and natural ventilation. Sustainably sourced Australian timbers are used throughout the building as wall and floor linings, and the flat roof accommodates a large photovoltaic farm which assists in powering the gym during the daytime.

Design Innovation

The Gymnasium’s distinct formal expression is rooted in practical building performance. The inclusion of natural ventilation as a sustainable and affordable design solution was a key consideration in MCR’s early stages of design, preventing the exhaustive consumption of energy to mechanically cool such a large volume of space.

The vaulted ceiling of over three metres deep both conceals the steel trusses required for the structural span and funnels hot air to operable skylights, providing natural lighting and cooling during periods of high activity and temperature. Six sets of double doors on the north and south facades can be opened for optimal natural ventilation and egress - an act that filters both cool air and student activity through the building. The absorption of the natural topography of the site also performs a dual purpose. Tiered seating on the south and west flanks of the main gymnasium, significantly reducing excavation and site work costs, while serving to heighten the innate drama - between performer and audience, player and spectator.

Design Impact

The PEGS Gymnasium reminds us of the soft power of architecture, to enhance civic participation, activity and community. The positive impact of students becoming engaged community members has boundless flow-on effects, both personal and societal. The outcome of this new facility is best summarised by a testimonial from the Vice Principal of the school:

“Having a state-of-the-art facility, such as the new gymnasium, means that the potential and possibility for our students, staff, and community, in terms of their sporting endeavours, are unrestricted. The quality and composition of the building engenders greatness by enabling those who utilise the space to see beyond ordinary. It is a place for both personal achievement and the building of teams. It is a place for us to engage with our community; to gather, to celebrate, to connect.”

Nina Bilewicz - Vice Principal Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School

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