Montrose Gymnasium offers a much-loved primary school in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges a new gymnasium for school and community. A confident new street identity, fork-to-fork kitchen garden program, unisex facilities and flexible learning environments are other project dividends. Our core idea was to respond to the character of the Dandenong foothills, the transitory hinterland between Melbourne’s expansive flat plains and the voluptuous hills of the Yarra Valley.
We located the gymnasium to the front of the school, highly visible from the nearby main road. Its large volume to the north interfaces with a framed forecourt to the street (like a public agora), marking this transition from anonymous suburb to mountainous landscape. We eschewed a typical skillion roof for an asymmetrical ‘broken back’ ridge, running in the short direction to reference the billowing landscape.
The intense ever-changing hues of the ranges are reflected in the upper cladding superstructure with irregular fissure-like joint alignments reading as one surface under the strong roof form. A fractured demarcation links superstructure (mountains) with masonry base (earth). Masonry responds to the earthy materiality and colours of the existing campus, its variegated blockwork patterns along the plinth punctured by ribbons of undulating windows.
The tall cascading west facade contrasts with the sense of enclosure afforded by the generous shaded veranda. The high-wearing surface of the blockwork is expressed internally, too. Despite the building’s irregular profile, plywood and white steelwork internal patterning create a balanced, light and airy environment. Polycarbonate panels at each end reduce glare and draw natural light deep within.
Particular care was taken to engineer the steel frame to leave these broad translucent facades free of cross bracing. The gymnasium features a full competition grade basketball court with spectator seating, storage and change rooms. A lower level extension to the south includes an office and facilities exceeding the original brief that were achieved within budget and timeframes, including colourful new unisex bathrooms, a prized new facility for the school.
An accessible, child friendly but commercial-grade kitchen hosts the school’s new kitchen learning program and school kiosk. We utilised the gym’s entry foyer as a flexible breakout space for communal dining and informal learning. The raked ceiling and playful lighting creates a sense of arrival and place. Hugging this length of the building, the generous new veranda forecourt is both public/private interface, with graceful timber screen enclosing the criss-cross shaded play and eating area.
The new building has been oriented to maximise north and south aspects and limit exposure to the east and west. Sizing and placement of windows balances the need for natural light, views, heat gain and heat loss. Sun protection to the north is provided by translucent double skin polycarbonate sheeting preventing direct sunlight and overheating.
Due to siting constraints, the majority of windows are on southern facades, with semi-opaque cladding for daylighting. The use of light colours on the exterior of the building will reduce solar gain while internally, light colours reduce the need for artificial lighting. The canteen is well ventilated through serving counters to the south and to the foyer/dining area.
Natural cross ventilation through the gym is integrated with mechanical louvres for night purging and roof ventilation. A 15075L rainwater tank is incorporated into the building for garden watering. Photography by Trevor Mein..