Australia’s rapidly growing population requires a smarter, more sustainable and community orientated approach to placemaking. The creation of new outer ring suburbs, particularly in Melbourne, has seen an influx of development to meet this demand, from housing estates to transport options and retail offerings.
While new housing is required to cater for Melbourne’s rapidly growing population, what is often overlooked in this process is the need for infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and parks to support new residents. A successful and vibrant community relies on the creation of strong and numerous social connections, which is dependent on amenities that evoke a sense of place.
At ClarkeHopkinsClarke, we see education as integral to the success of these growth areas. School precincts strengthen town centres, deliver friendly and familiar civic landmarks within barren estates, and provide desperately needed community resources. Developing these facilities is the difference between a ‘dormitory suburb’ or ‘commuter town’ where residents simply come home to sleep, and a thriving community that residents are proud to call home.
New schooling developments not only carry the potential to attract increased residents, but often include multifunctional facilities such as school halls, cafeteria, gymnasium, sporting grounds that can be utilised by the wider community.
A case study that demonstrates the positive impact of education in the creation of a new community is the Department of Education and Training’s recently developed Officer Education Hub, located in Officer, Victoria and designed by ClarkeHopkinsClarke and opened in 2014.
Despite the suburb being positioned between several populated areas in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, Officer remained considerably under serviced by community infrastructure and called for an education hub to attract residents and bring the area to life.
A specialist school and a secondary college were the facilities included in the hub’s original brief, however, upon consultation with the local Cardinia Shire Council, demand for a wider range of community facilities was revealed. Recognising the potential of the school as a community hub, our mission as architects was to demonstrate how the education precinct could integrate a range of facilities for dual use by both the school and local community, and in turn attract both local and state funding.
The aim of the hub’s design was to create strong physical connectivity between the education precinct and the newly established Officer town centre. In order to achieve this, the main entry to the secondary school campus acts as an extension of the town centre’s main street, providing a safe and logical route of access.
An area for teaching food technology is located adjacent to the canteen, providing a suitable overflow area for catering should the facility be utilised for a community event. The food technology area joins onto a large space that incorporates a space suitable for conversion to a reception area for community events.
Even the approach to sports fields was carefully considered in this process, being positioned to interface with existing council managed playing fields to create a larger recreational precinct for the area.
Alongside these community facilities are the two schools of the hub. Officer Specialist School allows for capacity of up to 260 students, with approximately 80 already enrolled since opening in 2014. The school is a reflection of a modern approach to specialist education, embracing contemporary building forms to best suit students’ needs. Traditionally, these types of schools have been institutional and clinical in character, rather than an aesthetically pleasing environment. The Officer Specialist School however breaks away from this mould, creating an inspiring environment for learning.
Officer Specialist School Principal Sue Campbell released a statement following the school’s completion stating, “Typically the classroom environment and transitioning between spaces can be extremely problematic, particularly for students with autism. However the design incorporates high, acoustically friendly spaces with natural light and sensitive colour selection.”
“For the students with autism, it means that anxiety levels are significantly reduced and learning greatly enhanced,” Campbell says.
The second school in the Officer Education Hub is Officer Secondary College, designed to eventually support up to 1600 students and their teachers. The school is currently servicing 150 year seven students, with plans to add an additional school grade ever year until 2020.
There are two general learning buildings in the secondary school. Each learning community includes spaces to accommodate a range of learning activities, including large collaborative areas that can accommodate up to 50 students, a formal learning space and conferences rooms. The learning communities are designed to enable teachers to move through the spaces with their students during the day, utilising the areas most suited to the activities undertaken. Already, the secondary college is recognising the benefits of these learning communities for encouraging informal learning. Students are increasingly empowered to take control of their learning.
The Officer Education Hub is a contemporary learning environment, an important civic contribution to the Officer town centre, and an example of a truly community integrated learning environment. As new housing estates continue to develop across Melbourne, education must be embraced and placed at the forefront of new communities to ensure their enduring appeal.
Wayne Stephens is a partner at Melbourne architectural practice ClarkeHopkinsClarke.