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School in the Grove

Master Design Studio C (in pair)

2021 Semester 1

1st year Master of Architecture

School in the Grove is about offering primary school students a moment of discovery and an opportunity to interact with the natural and phenomenological contexts at school. We aimed to design spaces that invite students to be curious and have a wide range of interpersonal relationships and play.

Site Context

The site is located near the major intersection of Chapel Street and Malvern Road in Prahran. The site is adjacent to the large community facilities including a park, playground and a pool that the school can take advantage of.
The site is in between the economic zone (commercial, civic and hospitality buildings) on the west side and the residential zone (social housing towers and neighbourhoods of single-detached houses) on the east side.
In considering the design response to the site context, we decided to have a more open, welcoming gesture to the east side of the site where the local neighbourhoods are located.

Precedent Analysis

During the precedent study, we analysed the architectural elements used in precedent projects against factors such as fluidity and rigidity, and verticality and horizontality. This helped us identify key elements for our design.

Concepts & Development

There are four key concepts: vertical spatial and visual connection, Hellerup stairs for various affordances, indoor-outdoor connection and the flexibility of general learning space. The design was developed based on aspects shown below:
Volume: segmenting the site into the classrooms on the north side and specialist classrooms and the vertical library on the south side. 
Levels: having double-storey high spaces for general classrooms and inserting mezzanine floors in between on the south side. This enabled each classroom to have a platform above for informal learning and play while the space under the platform is for formal learning settings.
Open space: strips of open spaces adjacent to classrooms, on the ground floor and on the rooftop. The open space and classroom area can be spatially connected by opening bi-fold sliding doors and tilt up doors, making the interaction with vegetation and outside accessible.
Structure: engineered timber (cross laminated timber and gluram) for structural stability, durability and construction efficiency as well as a sense of warmth through exposing the raw finish.
Circulation & Nooks: a series of nooks and space adjacent to circulation for a variety of play and social interactions, including solitary play.

A Day at School

We imagined the student experience by tracking Emily, a year 3 student throughout a day at school.
  • 8:32am: arrives at school, grabs some breakfast and catches up with her friends on the ground level.
  • 8:45am: goes to her classroom and works on a group maths assignment.
  • 10:33am: during recess, she pulls out movable seats under the bench in the open space and has a chat with other friends, enjoying sunshine and cool breeze.
  • 11:05am: attends an art class in the specialist classroom.
  • 1:00pm: eats lunch on the rooftop garden while watching her friends play basketball.
  • 1:30pm: looks for books to read for her English class in the library.
  • 3:15pm: waits on the ground level for her parents to pick her up after school.

General Classroom Space

Ground Floor

Classrooms are organised by year levels and designed classrooms to have a capacity to be open and flexible for a variety of teaching approaches, including combined classes. The typology of classrooms is repeated across levels to create a sense of consistency and familiarity. The glazing on both east and west side allows sufficient light intake and cross ventilation. The nook above classrooms has movable bamboo screens for creating independent semi private space.
The ground level welcomes students and visitors by a huge Hellerup staircase that extends down to the basement theatre stage. The space under the stairs is utilised as a cafe and food tech room, which can be used as a reception space when there is an event held at school. The community garden integrated into the stepping form offers a wide range of affordances.

Vertical Library


The vertical library enables the segmentation of space by levels for classroom activities. The idea of vertical spatial connection is applied here too to create a semi-private space above the circulation area.
The rooftop garden and playground have integrated seating, ramp and planter boxes to create a transition from a semi-private intimate area to more open space for physical activities.
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