Victorian STEM school wins architecture award

Whittlesea Tech School has a progressive approach to education and the school’s built environment needed to reflect that.
Jul 1, 2020
Curiosity, ideation, innovation

Whittlesea Tech School has a progressive approach to education and the school’s built environment needed to reflect that.

The school seeks to prepare STEM students for future work by fostering curiosity, transdisciplinary projects and entrepreneurial solutions so the building needed to be a welcoming, collaborative centre of technological innovation

It launched in September 2018 at Melbourne Polytechnic’s Epping campus as part of a 10-school initiative by the Victorian Department of Education and Training developing critical STEM skills in Victorian secondary students.

Students are a diverse, transient group of 10,000 drawn from 14 government, Catholic and independent schools.

“Our programs focus on the process of problem-finding, developing empathy, ideation, prototyping, iterating and pitching innovations to stakeholders,” says Whittlesea Tech Director Sandra McKechnie.

“Through transdisciplinary, collaborative projects students learn the skillsets they need to innovate in a ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ model of education. The curriculum focus changes every 6-12 months. So the building needed to provide broad learning settings, technology, connections to industry partners (virtual and face-to-face), and inspirational displays of community, student and industry achievements.

“We needed an array of specialist learning settings: ingenuity studio, innovation workshop, laboratory, digital design and presentation, enhanced with access to small group, breakout and support spaces allowing for long-term flexibility.”

An inclusive atmosphere and seamless wayfinding were paramount. “Student numbers flux from 16 to 160 students, from single or multiple schools and diverse backgrounds,” McKechnie says. “This is also a resource for local community and industry partners, bringing people together to collectively prototype solutions to challenges faced by our community. So we needed a welcoming, comfortable space easily navigated by first-time visitors. ClarkeHopkinsClarke certainly met and exceeded the brief.”

Over two levels, the purpose-built facility links practical workshop and laboratory spaces housing high-tech tools and equipment to auditoriums, an industry hub, conference and meeting amenities, and a double-height central gallery and exhibition space running the length of the building.

Spatial planning and volumetric design drawing strongly on an underlying theme of connectivity. Viewing windows, sliding doors and double-height spaces connect each learning environment with at least two others, allowing learners to organically progress projects through the ideation, production, testing, presentation and exhibition phases.

The building won the Learning Environments Australasia Educational and Facilities Regional Award for New Construction Under $8m for architects ClarkeHopkinsClarke.

Photograph by Dianna Snape