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St Michael's Grammar School by Bourke & Bouteloup Architects

The Sisters’ Building

Originating in a planning response that strives for the largest feasible building envelope, the new building is treated as an extension of the existing urban system of St Kilda.  The school is located in a diverse urban context which, as the ‘urban DNA’ of St Kilda, is used to create a variety of charged urban spaces in and around the building.


The project included the demolition of existing buildings to open up a vista and a sense of depth to the relatively small campus.  The provision of 34 car bays in a basement under the reinstated basketball court maximises a dense site program.  The project includes a pastoral care centre with head-of-house offices all opening onto pedestrian areas and social spaces allowing for student drop-in.  A gallery and multi-purpose teaching/meeting rooms serve as an introduction to the School.  The Year Seven level (First Floor) integrates a number of classrooms with a dedicated computer classroom and a ‘team teaching’ (project) space.  The Year Twelve level (Second Floor) is a series of classrooms adjacent a large Study Hall and Student VCE lounge.  A large ‘bar’ or ‘ironing board’ element provides some domestic prop for informal learning and discussion.  Sunlight and ventilation through clerestory windows opening to the Green roof provide an enhanced microclimate and cooling effect to the building.  The roof garden above the Second Floor also acts as an informal outdoor teaching and recreation space.


Located at the high point of St Kilda hill, the Sisters’ Building visually engages with the iconic buildings on the St Kilda skyline by generating sightlines from upper levels and the roof garden.  An axis between two church spires is registered in the ceiling, terminating on a window that frames a spire to the West.  Chapel Street’s six-pack apartments are a defining pattern in the local urban fabric - the voids between these housing blocks are an implied extension of the internal living spaces.  Similarly, the three North facing oriels of the Sisters’ Building project from the building to capture the outdoor play space.  The curtain wall glazing distends from the mass to both provide shading and to adjust to spandrel requirements.  


The new hipped roof ‘develops’ into a covered arcade that may eventually feed a master planned quadrangle.  As the first stage of a master plan, the building is treated such that it can exist in isolation should the master plan vary.  The arcade is employed to elevate humble circulation spaces into an ecclesiastical realm, as social and play spaces that differ from the larger outdoor scale.  The three-storey arcade is created by the balconies stepping back on each level to maximise sunlight into the existing classrooms and provide ventilation.  Similarly, the circulation stairs at either end of the building are treated to heighten the experience of vertical circulation.  A visual screen on the Western Stair protects the Northern neighbours from overlooking and creates a moiré effect that provides a vivid optical experience when moving within it. 


Photographs: Peter Bennetts

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