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It doesn’t take much effort to design a rudimentary gymnasium that can also function as a performance centre.
But for an Essendon school, the brief called for a civic quality, one that not only slowed down passing traffic but added a new dimension to the student experience.
MCR looked to great civic buildings – the Doge’s Palace and the Teatro Reggio – for inspiration.Credit:John Gollings
McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) Architecture & Interior Design has been instrumental in shaping Penleigh & Essendon Grammar School’s (PEGS) campuses, one of which, the senior school, is located in Keilor East.
MCR made its mark with the Larkin Centre, the Gottliebsen House and the McNab House.
From the outset, it began to research by looking at some great civic buildings, including the Doge’s Palace framing St Mark’s Square in Venice and the Teatro Reggio in Turin, northern Italy – the latter combining an ornate Renaissance facade with a dramatic contemporary insertion in the 20th century (due to a fire gutting the theatre) by renowned architect and furniture designer Carlo Mollino.
“We wanted to create a sense of drama as well as a civic quality, given this new building was going to be a focus for the senior campus,” says architect and MCR director Rob McBride, who worked closely with Debbie Ryan, the practice’s founding principal.
Located on Centreway, which was formerly the “back gate” to the campus, the new building has a strong civic quality, from its arched brick portico on arrival, with an almost ribbon-like facade.
The glazed brick CORIUM system used for the facade/entrance allows bricks to be treated almost like fabric, shaped and cut to create fluid arches and folds.
“Finding this malleable system took considerable time and research.
A key feature are the barrel-vaulted ceilings.Credit:John Gollings
“We didn’t want to simply create a static facade,” says Ryan, who with her team was also interested in designing different facades to respond to each condition.
The western elevation, for example, oriented towards the main car park, features black steel walls, with windows and other apertures featuring supergraphics of the word PEGS abstracted.
“Each facade is relatively complex, but we were keen from all aspects to create that civic presence,” says McBride, who along with Ryan included some signature hallmarks –fuchsia-pink adding depth to the columned facade, bands of blue tiles adding a slightly Moorish aesthetic.
Inside, hovering above the two basketball courts, is a barrel-vaulted ceiling in perforated timber to reduce noise emission from players to spectators.
MCR also provided skylights between each barrel-vaulted ceiling, with automated louvres to purge hot air during the warm months, or when large school assemblies or performances were held.
MCR was handed a fairly large brief for this program – including two basketball courts that could also be used for general assemblies and performances, an area for table tennis, storage for drama props, offices, a couple of classrooms, change areas and a fitness room as well as bicycle storage.
To connect the centre to the adjacent 1970s gymnasium, which was lightly reworked by MCR, there’s a staircase with landings that take on the quality of theatre boxes.
And given Ryan is one of Australia’s leading talents when it comes to using colour, it’s not surprising to see the inclusion of rich blue walls that would sit as comfortably in the Doge’s Palace.
“We enjoy working with colour, but we also love working with geometry, cutting and shaping materials to create new forms – with each fold or cut responding to different aspects,” McBride says.
To extend the drama, two of the white concrete in-situ arches have been extruded.
Unlike most gymnasiums and performing arts centres, where there’s often a fairly blank facade and little hint of what’s beyond the threshold, MCR was keen to create a sense of transparency upon arrival.
“We wanted to draw people into the space, and in the case of this project, also provide a civic quality,” Ryan says.
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