Finalist 2022

Port Melbourne Secondary College

Billard Leece Partnership / Tract Landscape Designer / Victorian Schools Building Authority / Hutchinson Builders / Root Partnerships / WSP

PMSC is an innovative typology and inclusive learning environment designed for the health and wellbeing of students, staff, and community.

Port Melbourne Secondary College (PMSC) It is the first significant piece of social infrastructure to be built as part of Australia's largest urban revitalisation project. An innovative typology that is sensitive to the needs of young people, PMSC provides an inclusive, connected learning environment that fosters growth as well as the health and wellbeing of its students and the expanding Fisherman's Bend community. Both the building and the precinct serve as a new, forward-thinking hub, designed to foster advanced technology, creativity, and learning, while placing students close to their natural environment to increase awareness of their impact on the environment.

Design Brief

PMSC is a direct design response to the Fisherman's Bend Urban Renewal Framework. The key considerations to deliver the optimal outcome included:

  1. Integration with site: re-purposing of the existing site and community building.
  2. Social infrastructure for connection: building direct links to the community, including the university.
  3. Health, wellbeing, and inclusivity for students, staff, and community: spaces designed for the user, providing choice and flexibility, with specific focus on de-escalation spaces.
  4. Adaptive design for growth and change: future proofing the design to support ever changing learning and teaching environments. Spaces have the potential for adaptive reuse to support the change of curriculum or pedagogical approach.
  5. Intelligent ESD approach tailored to the building requirements, for example reducing mechanical plant use.
  6. Corporate Social Responsibility: final design is comprised of 90% locally sourced products and services.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

Drawing on BLP's inclusive design process and research from previous inclusive design educational and health projects, the design of Port Melbourne Secondary College was holistic and comprehensive ensuring the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders. The philosophies, cultures, and feelings of the local community as well as our understanding of effective educational flows in vertical high schools laid the groundwork for the design of PMSC. The overall design result is an intentional response that evolved from client and community discussions and reviews, from pre-design and master planning to design development and to the final built forms.

The design discussions were in the form of Design Reference Groups (DRG) meetings, key in informing the overall professional design of PMSC. These groups were executive meetings, attended by three local vertical school principals and DET representatives, who provided local knowledge about the area and provided feedback and lessons learnt from previous projects. Through these consultations the design and planning phase of this project was analysed and exceeded.

Each stage provided iterations for analysis of our designs, allowing us the opportunity to reflect and deliver the optimal final product. The process produced an architectural form that pays homage to the site's historical element. The sand dunes are mirrored within the form and the angled form on the ground floor, resembles a ship, referencing the nautical history of the area. Within, students experience different types of learning without disruption, with feature lookouts from Level 1 down to the gym, visually connecting sporting environments with the internal quiet spaces. The overall design exceeded the brief by delivering flexibility and access to generous outdoor learning environments from all teaching spaces. This provides students the option to engage or retreat, supporting self-regulation, independence, and wellbeing.

Design Excellence

PMSC sets the bar for excellent design not only in Victoria but also throughout Australia and internationally. It is a visually striking virtual school for advanced technology creativity and learning, as well as a response to the site, location, environment, and culture. The building acknowledges that secondary school children face unique challenges and that their learning environment exists to promote and safeguard their ability to learn and develop.

The learning environment nurtures students who are empathetic and socially aware by helping them to understand their place in their community. Drawing on BLP’s translational design experience, the multi-layered design approach, centres on the sensory experience of high-quality materials, the use of acoustic materials in an innovative manner to quieten the spaces and thoroughfares, maximising natural air flow and daylight, and a social and environmental response to planning. BLP's design takes the user from the ground to a rooftop, figuratively representing both the transitory nature of the past, and from the sea to land climbing to higher altitudes and the students journey with STEAM-focused curriculum. Additionally, a freely accessible and welcoming ground floor plane with four separate quadrants serves as a gathering place for students, staff, and the community to come together.

The design generates movement between levels by centralising the specialist learning spaces between junior lower levels and senior upper levels. The faceted timber structure located at the heart of the building organises each floor and serves as a wayfinding element. Incidentally, this timber form also houses the staff zones, encouraging collaboration and communication between staff and students. The finished building has received praise from the staff, students, principal, and community. BLP post occupancy studies will be carried out over the course of the next seven years to examine the overall success of the design.

Design Innovation

PMSC is both protective and transparent, the innovative ship-like structure acts as a shield, offering a sanctuary for students and shielding them from the industrial traffic, inside each space is created to solve a variety of learning objectives, activities, learning styles and needs. The design of the building has no front or back; it is welcoming, flexible and provides the opportunity for shared use facilities. The main ground floor, which is divided into four quadrants, is accessed separately from the school, resulting in community connectivity. The public forecourt, which has its own security line inside the college, welcomes visitors to the campus, outside of school hours allowing everyone to benefit from one another's ideas, cultures, and successes. Other advanced design features include the social stair at the building's core, an active informal learning space that generates interaction and visual links between levels and external views to the reserve and city skyline.

The overall design offers flexibility and overall access to generous outdoor learning environments to all teaching spaces, such as the science courtyard, robotics lab and food tech production garden. This provides students the option to engage, learn, socialise, or refuge, supporting self-regulation, independence, security, and wellbeing. All learning spaces are fully ventilated with windows and open doors, bringing in fresh air, sunlight, and natural views, resulting in optimal air quality throughout the building. The acoustic design is comprehensive, with an emphasis on selecting premium materials and intelligent acoustic planning to make open spaces feel calming and engaging, promoting wellbeing. Further ground-breaking solutions are demonstrated by purging air through an internal flue (via the social stair) that is designed to open and remove the building's inner heat at night, cooling it for the next day. Overnight, the school regenerates, allowing students to return to fresh air the next day.

Design Impact

PMSC is an innovative typology and inclusive environment with a positive environmental and social impact. The school addresses long lasting holistic approach to learning and sustainability inclusive of experiential and cultural aspects important for this education facility’s contextual and social benefit. The key message throughout the design process was that the school serves all learners, as such all spaces are accessible and work for all students regardless of their learning path, from both a mental and physical health viewpoint, not simply pedagogy.

The building, its operations, and the design's ethological approach, which is one of the key determinants for a healthy environment, were designed in direct response to this goal. This was achieved through a disciplined design process, working in unison with the building form from day one.

During the design process questions were raised and challenged; what are the external applications to interiors? What result did the interior application have on the exteriors? These questions were asked to challenge the idea of what a secondary learning facility looks like in today’s world. The result is a more cohesive, adaptive, inclusive learning environment for all. From an environmental perspective, the design team worked hard to establish clear goals and focused on targets that delivered the greatest benefits for its users and the broader community, the overall result:

  • A building that embraces the linkages between environment and learning with a focus on IEQ and external learning spaces.
  • A biophilic design that connects all learning spaces to adjacent outdoor terraces for both student and teacher respite.
  • A building that enhances student and staff health and wellbeing through active design that promotes use of central social stairs, outdoor spaces and provides easy access to adjacent recreation spaces
  • A precinct that encourages community involvement through food production gardens and multiuse flexible spaces.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Designing PMSC to optimal sustainable design principles highlighted the importance of an integrated approach. The project design team was dedicated and disciplined from the very beginning, carrying the integrated design approach from concept design stage all the way through. The design team worked collaboratively with WSP ESD consultants and the builder to ensure deliver high standard ESD specification.

The sustainable principals and priority strategies that were employed on this building were:

  • Energy efficient passive design by:
    • Breaking down deep floorplates resulting from compact built form due to the small site footprint by strategically splitting up program and built form to create narrow floorplates. These floors have dual aspect that improve access to daylight, views, and ventilation
    • Developing a smart ventilation solution supported by the BMS that allows natural ventilation between 18 and 26 deg C within occupied spaces and provides night purging through a flue system that enables the building to regenerate with fresh air overnight. This system allowed for a high level of flexibility to increase fresh air supply in response to COVID challenges
    • A dynamic façade with integrated shading and overhangs to maintain thermal comfort without compromising natural light
  • A pathway to a net zero emission strategy:
    • through reduction of thermal load with a highly energy efficient building fabric with improved insulation and attention to shading
    • onsite renewables such as provision of solar PV and future proofing of additional panels as well as power storage facilities
  • Reduced water consumption through:
    • WSUD landscape design principles including rainwater storage and recycling for landscape irrigation
    • Careful selection of water efficient fixtures and fittings and third pipe future proofing for greywater reuse within the building
  • Sustainable materials selection with forestry stewardship approved timber and recycled content used in the cement mixes throughout the project.

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