The fairly open-ended brief called for an internal fitout of an existing
“tired & run-down” school canteen.
The existing canteen, a tribute to the early 1990`s with beige tiles & pastel painted yellow walls was in desperate need of an extensive internal overhaul. Bad laminate ad-hoc joinery left over from old classrooms and extensive stainless steel railings & fitments made the space feel similar to that
of a garage sale come prison cafeteria. Poor existing planning of the space also resulted in reduced the number of tables for students to actually use & occupy during lunchtimes and recess. The existing canteen consisted of one-large open space with one kind of table seating scenario. This was not a place for social interaction & gathering nor had any connection to the adjacent landscaped quadrangle.
Our design concept formed around the quite whimsical idea of the Canteen as a “carved out wooden cavern come Venetian restaurant”. Two primary projects we really kept coming back to were: Alvar Aalto
s Finnish Pavilion of the New York Worlds Fair in 1939 and Carlo Scarpa`s Olivetti Showroom in Venice of 1958.
Our spatial driver of the project was to create a series of different opportunities of social interaction between students. Large open communal tables, smaller more intimate booth seats to conventional table arrangements at varying sizes for different group sizes give the space a sense of freedom beyond the boundaries of a table and four chairs. It also offers a range of options for the varying requirements and personalities of the individual students.
We approached the design of the Canteen as somewhere where: food could be easily swept up, food could not be mashed into upholstered seats, hence the booths easy to clean, clad in formply. A conscious effort was taken to understand that inevitable scuff marks would be left from school shoes on the back of booth seats and hence we chose a material such as grain-textured CD plywood, that would allow for lets call it ‘interaction’ with the material to only enhance & enrich its patina.
Vertical natural timber battens were used extensively throughout to provide a sense of warmth and richness and also provide a nice visual reference to the existing ceiling – which helped provide a certain sense of uniformity to the space.
Further to the practicalities of materiality, importantly & specifically – We wanted to explore the possibilities of a fairly cost effective, generic material such as rope and to transform it into something far richer. There is a rich history & tradition of using weaved rope & cord in furniture making, particular in Denmark. We really wanted to investigate the essence of this crafted making.
We also really loved the fact rope also has a tactile quality and we hoped this would help further engage the students with their new space.
The offset layering of the black and green rope lines to the screens was inspired by the graphic works of Josef Albers around the early 1940`s.
We used one type of off-the-shelf chairs & one bespoke chair by the guys at Dowel Jones who I met a couple of years ago going through the LaunchPad program in Sydney. We really liked the contemporary reading of what I remembered to be the metal framed, timber top schoolyard chairs in their
Hurdle Chair range. It made our minds wonder back to the early days of school.
We very much like to use local products on most projects as it is a good way to expose the students to good contemporary design outside of the current questionable, trending, ‘contemporary’ school furniture you see in most school environments these days.
We also used off-the-shelf table bases and designed our own custom layered plywood with laminate table-tops to visually tie all the loose & built-in furniture together so-to-speak.
The light emitted from the Danish mega-bulb pendants is used to provide a subdued light & atmospheric sensibility. The space as a result has a wider feeling of perspective in terms of providing a ‘restaurant-like’ quality – ie. we thought this Canteen had the potential to be more than just a school canteen.
Very late in the construction of the project – the school`s principal asked me to look at some internal artwork to further enhance the space. We chose a wonderful set of three abstract landscape photographs taken by Peter Clarke. The formal language within the photographs and colour palette worked wonderfully with the linear ‘linework’ within the rope screens and formal nature of the joinery to enhance the space overall and again offers a diversion from the typical ‘fruit-bowl still-life’ plastered around the typical school canteen.
The screen elements were derived from inspiration we took from cord weaving traditions used in Danish furniture making and the often bronze & copper screening devices used in the work of Carlo Scarpa. The final composition of the black and green rope as an offset composition, was inspired by the graphic art works of Joseph Albers around the early 1940`s.
The screening units were introduced to divide the space yet offer a practical opportunity for passive surveillance by the canteen and school staff. They also offer a variety of spatial conditions depending on the orientation of where they are viewed from. Front on they provide an almost complete transparency and as you move around them - On the oblique they offer a quite the opposite as the rope elements visually align to stack-up together creating a visual intimacy & temporal privacy to the booth areas.
The rope screens offer both a visual and physical- tactility & playfulness.
The improvement in the internal ‘flow’ of the space in terms of students coming and going has allowed a far greater volume of students to use the Canteen than in the past. As a result of the project and its increased usage - The school is currently looking into the future of its menu and looking to introduce a completely new refined menu with a series of healthy alternatives to the long standing - meat pie, fried schnitzel & Big M options typically offered in schoolyard canteens.
As a result of new shug & sliding glass windows - The Canteen also has a direct visual & improved physical link to the adjacent landscaped quadrangle.
It is now used for major school social events, dinners and executive lunches within the school community and there is even talk about its possible use after hours and on weekends for various curricular & non curricular functions.
Importantly, The Canteen is now a primary social hub for students and staff alike. It is a place to eat, study or socialise, where when the bell rings at 1:13pm for lunch & recess the space is flooded students enjoying their environment and engaging with something more than just a table and four chairs.
We have been delighted to see the students engaging with the tactile rope screens in a really positive way.