Victor Harbor has long been a favourite holiday and day-trip destination for many South Australians. The pretty seaside town, located on the Fleurieu Peninsula, is laidback and unassuming, with good surf beaches, charming tourist attractions and friendly locals. It’s popular during the summer months with families and groups of friends chasing cool respite and that feeling of getting away from it all, even though they’re only a 90-minute drive from Adelaide.
This new 2049 square-metre building at Investigator College is the third project to be realised as part of Flightpath Architects’ masterplan for the College’s campuses at Victor Harbor and Goolwa. The two-level structure was completed in early 2017 and occupies the otherwise vacant far south-east corner of the Senior School Victor Harbor campus. Its rear aspect takes in views of the bluff, but most importantly the building accommodates the entire senior student body, which was previously split across both campuses.
Skewed to overlook the oval and existing middle school buildings to the north, it’s the first thing parents and other visitors notice when entering the campus by the service road. Principal Don Grimmett and Deputy Andrew Panozzo hoped it would provide the College with a refreshed identity and it has. The building’s bold form is reassuring yet modern and sets the tone for an open learning environment based on collaboration, creativity, integration and communication.
As Flightpath’s senior architect James Plunkett notes: “Don and Andrew were determined to showcase excellence in education and that starts with a well designed building.”
The new gateway stands alone, atop a plaza that ensures connectivity with the rest of the campus. As part of the design team, landscape architects Oxigen delivered a generous common area that’s shared by the entire school community. It’s an elegant study in spacemaking, comprising terrace seats, a little knoll and a series of planter boxes containing herb gardens. During lunch and recess, the plaza is a bustling hub of activity and at student pick-up and drop-off times, it allows parents an opportunity to gain some insight into the social dynamics of the campus. Such a subtle, considered gesture goes a long way in reinforcing the College’s pedagogical commitment to openness and transparency; values evident throughout the entire project’s design.
This outdoor area also serves as a promenade to the new building, ensuring all eyes are on the Senior School. It does loom large in this context, yet its steel, timber and prefinished fibre cement exterior is thoughtfully modulated on this northern elevation by the ground floor’s full-height windows. Not only do they allow for views of the oval and plaza, they let the outside in, extending the sense of connectivity.
Unsurprisingly, the brief’s programmatic requirements defined the Senior School’s form and the outcome is as logical as it is efficient.
“It called for flexible, interactive spaces of varying sizes and specialties, interconnected with central circulation and break-out areas,” explains Plunkett. “So we divided them into two sections, one for learning and the other for administration.”
This division results in a T-shaped plan that locates the classrooms in the long rectilinear part, whereas all the administrative spaces are housed in the hammerhead at the eastern end.
The glazed entry foyer separates each zone and while they’re discreetly differentiated by a change in carpet, the exterior’s demarcation is much more dramatic. Plunkett wanted the School’s administration, which includes the staffroom, sick bay and senior co-ordinator’s room, to read differently to the learning area because of its prominent position at the site’s corner. It needed to make a statement and so he selected COLORBOND® steel Matt in Revolution Roofing’s Maxline® 340 profile, in the colour Monument®, for the hammerhead’s upper-level cladding.
It’s the first time this new COLORBOND® steel Matt finish has been used on a major Australian project and for Plunkett it was the premier choice for the job.
“My preference was for the COLORBOND® steel Matt finish because it’s subtle, it diffuses the light yet attracts your eye and makes a statement. I wanted to use it as cladding because it gives the impression of continuity and makes the building seem all the more deeply embedded within its context,” he says.
The COLORBOND® steel Matt finish also serves to emphasise the Senior School’s meticulous detailing, especially evident in the hammerhead’s eastern elevation where folded steel boxes frame the eleven upper level windows. Elsewhere, the COLORBOND® steel Matt finish in conjunction with the profile highlights clean surfaces devoid of fixtures. And as cladding for the blade walls that bookend the entry foyer, the product injects just the right amount of definition into the internal scheme, without overpowering it. But for all its aesthetic merits, the COLORBOND® steel Matt finish proves an advantageous choice because when correctly specified it’s able to withstand environments such as this.
Cement cladding on the administrative part’s ground level is likewise hardwearing and its pale grey colour stands in stark contrast to the Monument® Matt, creating a graphic dynamism. Plunkett echoes the light hue in the main roofing, which is made from COLORBOND® steel Matt in Revolution Roofing Rev-Klip™ 700 profile. The raised roof form can be viewed from higher ground, so it was important to deliver an attractive, strong line to complement the building’s crisp angles and exact details.
Although the plan’s two parts each have their own distinct identity, there’s definite cohesion between them. The timber battens of the learning zone’s upper level shading device (at the front and rear) echo the verticality of the Revolution Roofing Maxline® 340 profile. While the cantilevered timber screens’ exposed structural steel supports and facias visually balance the administrative spaces’ cladding.
“The natural subtlety of the COLORBOND® steel Matt finish is matched by the organic elegance of the Spotted Gum,” notes Plunkett. “And this playful screen offsets the solidity of the hammerhead form.”
The sun-shading device’s gentle undulations are articulated internally, where the walls of the ‘learning street’, on both upper and ground levels, are on seven-degree angles. According to the architect, this is the optimum angle to create usable space and to also allow for passive supervision via operable glazed walls. It softens the corridors and makes the classrooms on the northern side and the specialist food, science and art spaces on the south, seem all the more approachable, as does the fun zig-zag lighting in both upper and ground level corridors.
Plunkett’s design creates a relaxed learning environment, informed by current pedagogies that prioritise collaboration. As a result, modular tables allow for different desk configurations and the operable walls provide flexibility. This more informal, less prescriptive scheme helps bridge the gap between high school and university and ensures students are comfortable, in order to promote greater productivity.
The learning spaces’ plan is repeated on the upper level and Plunkett has made the most of the foyer’s central void by installing an upstairs battery bar around it. Using Spotted Gum here, as well as for the staircase, adds warmth to the interior and makes it a favourite nook amongst students, allowing them to recharge their phone, check emails and work together in small groups. It also has the best views of the bluff and of the School’s Water Sustainable Urban Design feature at the building’s rear, which manages the site’s stormwater retention issue.
While the project’s hardy material palette is certainly its most compelling design expression, the soft, textured finish of the COLORBOND® steel Matt roofing and cladding is what ultimately defines the architecture. And for Plunkett, the outcome was reliant upon inspired product selection because the building needed the understated visual distinction the COLORBOND® steel Matt offers. As he reflects:
“Maintaining the original concept and a simplicity of form was only possible with this unique cladding product and it enabled us to deliver a well detailed, refined exterior that’s not only an attractive advertisement for a great learning environment, but for the College as a whole.”