Finalist 2022

Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) Music House

McBride Charles Ryan / Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School

The PEGS Music House is designed as a musing on context, beauty, and imagination.

The Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) Music House is an educational facility for the teaching and performance of music, involving the refurbishment of, and addition to an existing Victorian house. The undulation and oscillation of the new annex’s facade engages with the lyricism of music, the contrast between existing and contemporary meeting in the middle with carefully considered slippages. Ceiling heights fluctuate, thresholds and transitions merge, and the two become one. Heritage is celebrated in every detail, old meeting new.

Design Brief

The brief for PEGS Music House was simple. To bring the existing heritage Victorian House into the 21st century. Creating a flexible space for creative activities, while integrating modern and interactive technologies. A building to support the contemporary learning needs of the students and stoke their imaginations. MCR’s approach involved not only updating the building for contemporary teaching but celebrating the layers of history accumulated over its life. Ornamental plaster ceilings were revealed, stained and lacquered woodwork was refurbished and timber doors from various periods were repurposed. Characteristics of the existing building are carried through to the addition, most evident in the patterned glazed brickwork. While various playful abstractions throughout the design are intended to engage the curious minds of students.


This project was developed by:

Design Process

The planning process integrated a series of discussions around the character and symbolic value of the old Music House, to ensure the outcome would be one that respected the building's past, whilst developing it into an ICT rich, flexible pedagogical space of the present. Before commencing the design, MCR completed a comprehensive assessment of the existing conditions, determining opportunities for improvement of the functionality, amenity and aesthetic qualities of the facility. The spatial arrangement was rationalised to include additional music tuition rooms while achieving fluid circulation from the existing building to new.

Extensive refurbishment to the existing house addressed issues of water damage and rising damp. It involved a full replacement of the roofs and damaged subfloor framing, floor, and carpet. Glazing was upgraded and wall and ceiling treatments implemented to increase thermal and acoustic performance. Entirely new HVAC, lighting and electrical was also installed to improve function and comfort for contemporary learning.

Working with PEGS, MCR tested various options, forms, and programs. This approach supported the niche needs of individual tuition, classroom learning, and the facilitation of larger gatherings. A large, multi-purpose space, accommodates classroom learning, while also functioning as a rehearsal space for musical groups, with the ability to host performances for parents. Accommodating an array of sizes of musical instruments and groups was key to the process, expressed through circulation, storage, and acoustic strategies.

Design Excellence

PEGS Music House uses standard school components in an innovative formal composition, with a design intention focused on the pursuit of joy and beauty, allowing the design to transcend the utility of the technology and material used. The new addition activates the impression of a mini-precinct in its assemblage with the existing two buildings on site, further creating a fourth element – the courtyard. Thoughtful design allows for flexible engagement with students; with the breadth encompassing large groups working and performing together, as well as individual tuition. The building is a constant hive of activity, alive with lessons, rehearsals, after-school string quartets, junior orchestra and one-on-one lessons; additionally, providing multiple students a supportive space to perform of a lunchtime.

A key aspect of the design is its ability to harmoniously adapt acoustically and functionally - allowing for quiet spaces for contemplative learning and teaching of small groups, as well as boisterous learning through play, simultaneously without disruption. The clustering of functions allows for a seamless transition from an environment that appears cosy and safe, to one which encourages free musical exploration. Some rooms, such as the percussion studio are zoned for more specialised musical exploration, whilst the remainder allow sessional staff to teach a myriad of instruments dependent on the day and time, in light, open spaces.

Design Innovation

The PEGS Music House maintains a balance between preservation and reuse of the existing heritage elements, whilst also looking to the future of good practice for sustainability and contemporary design of pedagogical environments. MCR gained and implemented an in-depth understanding of optimal learning conditions, acoustic requirements, instrument maintenance, amenities, and staff facilities, through research and design. Close consultation was also undertaken with staff and students, to find out how to best enhance the space, using qualitative analysis. SMART Green Schools research was implemented: lowering the carbon dioxide in classrooms, through the building's porous entry letting in an abundance of fresh air, and allowing passive natural ventilation in every room (assisted by mechanical ventilation only in the bathrooms).

The design capitalises on the North Orientation by maximising opportunities for the ingress of light and uses sun-shading strategies to avoid the building reaching an uncomfortable temperature. The materiality palette uses local bricks and timber, as well as taking every opportunity to retain the existing building – repurposing many of the existing materials and elements, such as the beautiful existing art deco doors, carefully double-glazed to enhance acoustic properties. Additionally, the design incorporates multiple rain gardens, sun-smart procedures, and heating in rooms is controlled separately. Storage is elegantly integrated within the design, allowing staff to steer students to focus on learning outcomes by limiting distraction or broadening student musical exploration, dependent on pedagogical intent. This is essential in ensuring that the students have access to resources that allow them creative expression where it is appropriate, but can also be guided to focus on their teacher for in-depth class-based learning.

Design Impact

On a typical school day, the Music House is a busy mini hub, with boys shuffling off to individual music lessons in smaller rooms with brilliant arching windows formed from a formidable rolled and cut steel, bursting with sunshine that illuminates the piano against the beauty of the striated texture of the adjacent curving wall. The rehearsal room provides an equally vivid, but far more open space for collaboration, performance and pedagogy – the arch windows echoing the forms of the facade as students clamber to the instruments. The client has reported the architecture to be an innovative teaching point to educate students. The facade prompts explanations of soundwaves, architecture and design. It is used as a reference to explore precedents, including the minaret, patternation and colour.

The architecture provokes formal and informal opportunities for the students and staff to discuss arts and culture, as well as the science behind music. Client quote

“The Penleigh Essendon Grammar School Junior Boys’ Music Centre allows for flexible engagement with students; with the breadth encompassing large groups working and performing together, as well as individual tuition. The building is a constant hive of activity, alive with lessons, rehearsals, after-school string quartets, junior orchestra, and one-on-one lessons; additionally, providing multiple students a supportive space to perform of a lunchtime. Beyond the percussion room being a big hit, the creative elements of the design are an inspiration to the boys, who have watched it grow with a sense of appreciation and excitement.”

  • Graeme Sharman - Head of Junior School (boys), Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School

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