Penleigh and Essendon Grammar (PEGS) Junior Boys School
PEGS Junior Boys School acknowledges and exploits its unusual urban condition, from the street its oversized silhouette dominates, from the sports ground the building is like a federation grandstand. The interior, especially upstairs where the shape of the building’s extrusion is expressed, is intriguing. We hoped to stimulate young boy’s imaginations. Is it Hogwarts? Is it Institutional? We wanted them to have a clear memory of the school life at the end of their junior years.
The brief was for a two story year five and six block with three classrooms above and below. The school advocates a pedagogy whereby the classroom is upheld as the fundamental physical unit of teaching. With its plan dimensions fixed by the client, the humble classroom continues to serve this school well with their educational objectives. This aspect of our brief was open for neither negotiation nor interrogation. All other aspects, however, were up for grabs.
Circulation and classrooms flip from South to North in response to contextual opportunities. On the ground floor, a colonnade with laneway frontage to the south, while classrooms open directly onto deeply shaded landscaping to the north. The first floor is glazed to take in views to the city to the south, whereas the circulation along the north is enclosed with clerestory glazing to limit overlooking the residential neighbours.
Relieved of the burden of having to explore the tricky relationship between plan configuration and educational theory, we could instead focus on metaphor, space, form, colour, materiality, passage, transition and the relationship of the internal architecture to its external expression. We talked with the school and among ourselves about what ‘meaning’ this building could imply or embody: in the end we gravitated toward a thematic for the building that symbolised the power, richness and fantastical potential of a 10-12 year old boy’s imagination: a place where little is as it first seems.
Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School’s Raleigh Street campus began life as an Italianate mansion on windy hill. Over time the school acquired many of the surrounding houses, creating a campus which is somewhat ambiguous, both in its extent and in its expression.
The main facade, a vertical shadow clad in highly reflective bricks is derived from a classic Beverly Usher federation design. This is then up-scaled, such that it is still believable, yet somehow unreal, adding physicality to the fantasy, much like a Ron Mueck sculpture. The silhouette is then extruded from the streetscape into the site until it meets the sports fields. At this interface, the long section is ‘sliced’ gradually down to the ground, forming a dramatic and unexpected internal volume for assemblies that leads out to a raised hardscape platform for students to occupy during recess. This results in the building having four distinct ‘faces’: Hogwarts to the suburban street; the relentlessly rational quasi-brutalist southern façade to the access driveway to the south; the Shinto Shrine-esque qualities of the northern façade, and; the circus-marquee-meets-federation-grandstand to the West.
Internally the building takes its young occupants on a journey into the clouds. Beginning on the ground floor the grade 5 classrooms have rich deep colours and an earthly ambience. The first floor however, is more ethereal, borrowing its palette from the sky. With more than a nod to Utzon’s Bagsvaerd Church the complex federation silhouette is smoothed to a cloudlike shape.
McBride Charles Ryan had recently won a design competition for the PEGS Senior School which was well underway, when along came Building the Educational Revolution. PEGS already had a master plan with an ideal site selected for the Years 5 & 6 building which would be eligible for BER funding, but it required all parties involved to act quickly, and on a limited budget. The key to the success of the project and overcoming these hurdles therefore lay in its simple yet bold formal gestures. The entire building can almost be described by a single (albeit intriguing) extruded section.
It is in section that the building’s two most characterising features are obvious, the federation silhouette and upstairs ceiling. These two features although special, are still constructed from the most humble of materials, brick and plasterboard. By applying these common and robust materials in inventive ways spectacular architecture could be delivered on time and to a budget.