Text description provided by the architects. From a plinth of grey bluestone to the light and open roof garden, with sightlines in all directions, the eastern walls of MLC’s Nicholas Learning Centre are carefully and deliberately curved, softly scribed along the hard edge of the sporting oval. The handcrafted brick ‘skin’ in pale shades and progressive tones bring warmth and connectivity between the formal and informal campus context. From within, the curved skin is punctuated by fenestration framing views, expressing open connection beyond the College, reflecting the MLC theme of educating world-ready women.
The Nicholas Learning Centre for Years 7 and 8 girls is the first project emerging from the 2015 College Masterplan - a vision for the 10-year development of the Kew campus of Methodist Ladies College, in Melbourne’s inner east. The new Centre provides four levels of learning spaces, a level each for Years 7 and 8, both with 10 learning spaces or homerooms. A shared innovative learning zone at the top of the building flows into the popular roof-garden for outdoor learning.
The western edge of the new building— once ‘Grove Avenue’ is softened and opened to provide a gracious welcome to a natural flow of students and visitors into the new heart of the campus. This has become a natural gathering place, overlooked by the Centre’s verandahs, providing shade, and an invitation to outdoor learning. “The diversion of Grove Avenue into the heart of the campus, not only becomes the formational gesture of the building but the key to unlocking the new landscaped heart as a destination on campus,” says John Mcildowie. The deep overhanging balcony, as well as the natural stack ventilation system which provides fresh air to the learning spaces and ensures that comfortable temperatures are maintained throughout the day.
A series of display units in each learning space inform staff and students when conditions are suitable for natural ventilation, which has been embraced as a learning tool from staff and students alike. Working in close collaboration with the school’s academic staff, the design of the learning spaces is driven by the concept of the learning community, which aims to balance access into the heart of the campus with wellbeing and best practice learning.
As a result, the building is broken down into a series clusters, 5 learning spaces around a shared breakout space, nurturing students in the transition from junior to secondary schools by building strong bonds between peers and staff through a homeroom based wellbeing model, strengthening a sense of identity and ownership over the spaces. Purposeful learning settings such as presentation booths with video conferencing, a green screen filming studio, maker spaces, and a seminar room are provided in a more open manner.
The roof terrace flows seamlessly from this collection of spaces to form a hub for project-based collaborative work and provides a platform for innovative teaching and learning practices as distinct from the flexible spaces provided below. Ultimately, it is the collection of these ambitious, student-centered learning spaces that matter. Determined to improve student learning outcomes and teacher practices, the building sits at the heart of a growing field, delivering innovative architecture through the lens of innovative learning.