Baldivis Secondary College

Well that was an interesting PS talk. The architect, DOE rep and school principal all discussed the various processes that led to the completion of Stage 1 of Baldivis Secondary College.
Ros Marsland of DOE spoke first and gave a good overview of briefing and the systemic requirements of producing new schools in growing areas. She spoke of the ‘tensions’ between ensuring equity across schools (they all have the same number of classrooms etc) with the understanding of 21st century learning environments and creating an iconic community facility. She also acknowledged the OGA’s design guidelines and ‘Better Places’ documents, which is good to see they have actually been taken seriously. And this is evident by the intriguing spaces that have resulted.
The architect, Will Thompson of JCY, gave a good overview of the design of the facility, as a learning workshop. It actually helped appreciation of the spaces, as I have only seen these buildings from the Freeway, where they look quite harsh. Obviously they work differently on the inside and the sense of community created under the major roof was evident. (Although it will be interesting to see how this space functions with 2000 instead of the current 250 students!) I’m still not sure I’m a fan of the architecture – the warehouse design was apparently used because it was ‘Baldivis’, although I tend to think of Baldivis as more small scale, agricultural or marine-based, whereas this seems a little industrial. However, it certainly creates a beacon to the community and would be an exciting space for children experiencing high school for the first time. Will explained how there were high environmental principles employed through the design, with a BMS-managed natural ventilation system, high level windows for light, and shading where required. There is a dichotomy which I think I will only be able to figure out by visiting, where the corrugated steel and precast concrete panels (and strange colour scheme) create a sense of coldness and empty space. However the sense of light and, assumingly, thermal comfort talked about should counteract this. Will be interesting to see.
Last if the three speakers was the school principal Keith Svendsen. He loves the school. LOVES IT. He likes the openness, the colours, the ‘incidental learning spaces’, the public/social settings. What a great ambassador for the school. And what a great idea for the OGA to get the voice of the client. We all know architect’s can spin their buildings to sound amazing, but to hear it from the user is worth so much more.
As is often the case, some of the best comments come from the panel discussion at the end. Although Paul Edwards’ ‘questions’ were occasionally longer than the answers, some important insights into briefing and the manipulation of spaces, were made. It was great to hear from Ros the limitations the client often has in terms of budget and timing, and how they are open to using these constraints in a creative way to give better outcomes for the students. I also liked the comment that because the buildings are designed before a Principal is engaged, the spaces are about students, not one person’s ‘Empire’. A good point that the focus of school design should always be the students and staff as a collaborative group, not one person’s sole opinion.
So, there is a FREE site visit to Baldivis Secondary College next Tuesday, commencing at 4:30. It will be very interesting, as it sounds like the description of this project is not done justice by its photos. If you’d like to go to the site visit you need to register with Paul Edwards at Site Architecture

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