School treats kids as adults

The architecture of a new campus inspires learning

The West Australian

Saturday 20th May, 2017

Words: William Yeoman

You mightn’t think so sometimes, but the old saying still stands: treat kids like adults and they’ll behave like adults. This philosophy is evident in every aspect of CODA Studio and Broderick Architects’ unique joint venture, the new Bunbury Catholic College Mercy Campus in Australind.

Bunbury Catholic College Mercy Campus is just one of the many outstanding projects featured in this year’s WA Architecture Awards’ Educational category. Built by Smith Constructions, the $20 million co-educational college for Year 7  – 12 students aims to demonstrate, according to architects’ award citation, ‘that it’s possible to build educational spaces that achieve both the civic presence they deserve, and provide intimate student-scaled experiences.’

With features such as ‘dynamic internal streets’ which have been created to provide ‘ample opportunity to pause and connect’ and ‘moments of delight as brick walls graciously curve and whimsical patterns are created through a deliberate hit and miss pattern’ the architects believe the project ‘reveals the positive impact of joyful and considered school design on both the children and community that it serves.’

Eamon Broderick, of West Leederville-based Broderick Architects, says his firm specialises in schools; Fremantle-based CODA Studio specialises in urban design and interiors. ‘But we did everything together, all the way through,’ he says. ‘You don’t often get a chance to build a new school. More often, you’re adding to an existing school. So this was an exciting opportunity.’

He says that as a first build, not just of a new school but a new community, they wanted to design something that would last for ever. ‘Well, 100 years at least,’ he laughs. Thus the exteriors use ‘masonry’ brick, concrete but also ply – ‘as the primary material, giving permanence and a civic heart to the school.’ There are also sustainability elements such as light-reflecting windows and a bushland rehabilitation agreement.

Indeed, the idea of a civic building was central to the design. ‘As with other schools, the assumption was the broader community would engage with and borrow the spaces,’ Broderick says. ‘We also wanted something that was urban, not suburban, big but not spread out. The campus design is quite compact, mostly two storeys and with everything close together.

The result is a campus that encourages cross-disciplinary interaction. ‘So the science teacher might easily run into the English teacher and share ideas,’ Broderick says. And the students? ‘The exteriors are quite formal but the interiors are colourful and playful,’ he says.

‘For example, the library is known as the Learning Commons. It combines a traditional library, a research facility and a canteen. Kids can make their own tea or coffee, grab something to eat and take their computer or a book and really enjoy the space.’

Even the lecture theatre opens out into the foyer. ‘So if it’s cold or rainy outside you can come in here, eat your lunch and enjoy a performance by the school band or a short film or whatever. It’s quite civilised, it’s about treating kids as adults.’

He says the students have responded ‘very happily’ to the environment. ‘I guess good architecture is an example of how planning can influence behaviour.’ Which is also another example of good education and one that aligns with Bunbury Catholic College’s ‘commitment to the whole person’.