Finalist 2023

Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership - East Melbourne

DesignInc Melbourne

The Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership offers high quality professional learning for Victorian teachers and school leaders.

Victoria's 1858 former government printworks in Melbourne's Treasury precinct has been transformed by DesignInc into a state-of-the-art professional learning facility for Victorian teachers and school leaders.

Artfully blending the history of the building with the demands of contemporary education, the refined and sustainable fit-out celebrates the heritage building's original volumes while incorporating flexible and innovative learning and teaching spaces that reflect the range of settings that teachers encounter in contemporary education.

Designed to inspire and uplift educators on their journey of professional growth and transformation, the design prioritises flexibility and lightness of touch, while the interiors stimulate innovation and imagination.

Design Brief:

The Academy aims to lead and support the future of teaching and education in Victoria. DesignInc was briefed to create a professional learning facility that would empower school leaders and senior teachers, driving the advancement of teacher capability and confidence throughout Victoria. The brief asked that the outcome would honour the heritage building's legacy and elevate the status and skills of Victoria's teaching professionals. This facility serves as a beacon of educational leadership, inspiring and empowering educators to shape the future of teaching and education in Victoria.

The brief was further developed as DesignInc listened to stakeholders to understand how they would use the space, drawing the brief out of them in a collaborative process. The participation of a representative cohort of educators across the public education sector was a productive partnership between DesignInc and the stakeholders, as they worked together to define the brief.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

DesignInc commenced the design process by developing a conceptual design framework that imagines a creative journey linking all levels and spaces in the building, symbolising interconnection between past, present, and future. This idea is physically manifested as a new linking stair inserted in an existing heritage lightwell, articulating the creative journey. As a connector of time and space, the link embodies light, creativity, nature, memories, and hope.

A pivotal design principle was to celebrate the heritage and cultural story of the building. DesignInc developed a design narrative that relates the building's three levels to a tree in a landscape, with the basement as the roots and earth, the centre as the mid-level, and the top level likened to the canopy - outward-looking and light. The built narrative is layered with biophilic elements. Natural materials, connections to views and daylight and the generous use of greenery all come together to create a healthy building with a meaningful story.

Anticipating that educators who attend the Academy would engage with new concepts and ideas for the future of teaching, the spaces needed the flexibility to adapt and change. The interiors are expressly designed to invite change and transformation, with adaptable spaces that will respond to the shifts in pedagogy and learning practice over time.

DesignInc successfully met the brief by creating a specialist learning facility that meets the client's functional requirements and fosters a sense of pride, collaboration, and shared responsibility among the education community. When completed, the client described the project: "The space inspires imagination and innovation in professional learning for exceptional teachers and school leaders through a combination of natural light, living foliage, beautiful aesthetics, multiple layers, design, thinking, reflection and learning spaces and people interacting with all of these elements.”

Design Excellence

The design honours the heritage architecture with generous, light-filled spaces, celebrating its rich history as a government printing office and its cultural role in knowledge transferral, imparting a sense of gravitas and excellence that signals the teaching profession's value and importance.

The heritage building benefits from DesignInc's decision to lightly touch the structure, revealing and celebrating the heritage fabric and respecting the existing building's character. New built forms are treated as insertions within the interiors while retaining the original volumes of the heritage spaces.

The design resolution presents a creative journey connecting all levels and spaces in the building, symbolising interconnection between past, present and future. The narrative is layered with biophilic elements that express nature in the building fabric. To foster growth and learning, biophilia, live planting and low-VOC finishes create a healthy building that supports teaching in a profoundly human way.

The fit-out presents a variety of innovative learning and teaching spaces that reflect the range of environments teachers can expect to encounter in contemporary education settings. Integrating adaptability is a future-forward move anticipating the range of settings that teachers encounter in contemporary education today and tomorrow.

Large spaces presented challenges in creating rooms without introducing walls. For example, Level 2 has a grand room with heritage attributes that had to be preserved. To introduce scalability, DesignInc took inspiration from theatre design and introduced a round presentation platform with tiered seating that rotates. The circular platform can address the room like a stage with a backdrop or rotate, turning its back on the room, which works beautifully for smaller groups in the round. As a measure of the project's design excellence, the client has determined that the Academy East Melbourne will set a benchmark for design excellence and establish a model followed by subsequent Academies planned for Victoria.

Design Innovation

In a facility dedicated to pioneering educational innovation in Victoria, DesignInc transformed the former government printworks into a cutting-edge, contemporary facility. Imbued with adaptability and spatial fluidity, the design embraces the concept that teachers are storytellers, aiming to inspire and embolden educators on their continuous learning journey. Curiosity and humility were essential ingredients when designing the interiors because we can't know how the future will look. From this starting point, DesignInc created spaces that are easy to adapt, rearrange and transform to suit emerging ideas about education. These innovative learning spaces cater to evolving pedagogies, including blended, face-to-face, and digital learning.

Flexibility and transparency are integral, with spaces that adapt to support individual learning, small group collaboration, large lectures and remote setups. An innovative "hackable space" invites teachers to explore creatively, empowering them to try out new ideas and test emerging teaching scenarios.

Respecting the building's heritage and integrating new elements while preserving the original structure was challenging. A very large room with heritage attributes presented the problem of creating zones without introducing walls. Inspired by theatrical design, DesignInc developed an ingenious solution - a rotating round presentation platform with tiered seating. This versatile platform transforms the grand room, offering stage-like settings and intimate round table configurations. The circular presentation platform addresses the room like a stage with a backdrop or rotates, turning its back on the room, which works beautifully for smaller groups in the round.

Continuing with theatrical devices, DesignInc introduced large acoustic curtains to encircle private zones. Offering extra spatial configurations, the curtains also add fluidity and elegance to the room. When closed, the curtains create privacy zones for small groups. At the room's perimeter, DesignInc introduced landscaped anchor-edge seating suitable for small groups, and the seating doubles as overflow seating when hosting large events.

Design Impact

The Academy aims to lead educational innovation in Victoria, through collaborating with some of the world's biggest names in education, utalising research and data and through participant co-design and feedback. Signalling the value and status of the teaching profession to the broader Victorian community was a core intention of the project. We anticipate positive societal impact by elevating education as a significant and highly valued profession. It is hoped this will attract more high-quality aspirants to pursue a career in education.

The refinement, professional tone and overall design quality of the spaces repositions teaching as a high status profession and reminds the community of the significant contribution that school teachers make to our society.

The design and delivery of the fitout has been very cost-effective. Much of the budget was invested in updating services, making the old building meet today's standards and building codes.

The light touch approach toward the interior fit-out benefitted the budget by requiring less expensive finishes and joinery. In many areas, the original industrial finishes and surfaces are revealed and left exposed. They are robust, durable and already patinated by time, so they will be low maintenance and beautiful for years to come. The Academy's interiors serve as a catalyst for growth and learning, with diverse learning spaces, thoughtful design interventions, and a focus on creating a nurturing and inspiring atmosphere. Through this transformation, the facility stands as a testament to the Academy's commitment to pushing the boundaries of education and empowering educators to shape the future of teaching in Victoria.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Firstly, repurposing a building is an inherently sustainable act because its embodied energy is put to new purposes. Additionally, repurposing uses fewer resources and causes less carbon emissions and other pollutants. At the same time, repurposing a heritage building imposes multiple constraints. DesignInc's approach was to remove the layers of previous alterations to reveal and celebrate the heritage fabric.

The heritage building envelope and internal building fabric have been retained largely intact. Demolition was limited to non-original lightweight partition walls and surface treatments. The minimisation of demolition waste into landfill has ensured a large amount of embodied energy is retained on site.

Thermal performance is improved with secondary glazing of windows implemented where possible in the context of heritage constraints. For the entry experience, DesignInc chose a pared-back, simple statement, allowing visitors to take in the grandeur, scale and heritage, giving the building breathing space, so the building itself makes a statement.

The fit-out lightly touches the structure and respects the materials, proportions and features of the existing building. DesignInc specified socially and environmentally responsible materials in a sustainable approach, prioritising locally made materials. Materials were assessed to ensure they were not produced with negative human or environmental impacts. The Academy has a Green Office Policy that aims to send minimal waste to landfill. To support the policy, we included waste stations to sort and collect waste materials for recycling and encourage building users to take personal responsibility for operational recycling at work. End-of-trip facilities are provided to encourage people to use active transport.

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