Carlton Learning Precinct
- Law Architects
The Carlton Learning Precinct (CLP) has transformed a prominent but unattractive and underutilised corner site into an educational, social and urban design model for inner city learning.
Built from the remnants of the 1970s Housing Commission flats, the existing three-storey government primary school could not disguise its lineage and negative perception of its heritage.
The brief was to raise the school’s profile, increase student enrolment and relieve the ‘white flight’ enrolment pressure within the broader geographic area. The urban design strategy was to activate the street level with built form and landscape positively responding to and engaging with its environment.
The open Covered Outdoor Learning Area (COLA) structure frames the corner site, containing the school property whilst fostering visual connections between the school, street and broader community. Communal amenities around the outside of the COLA provide direct access by community.
This urban design response in a multi-use urban area is sensitive to issues of mass, permeability and public interface. The complexities of building function and funding have not compromised the ability to reinvigorate this densely populated pocket of Melbourne, unlock it’s urban design potential and provide a beautiful built environment that serve the needs of the broader community during and after school hours.
The challenges posed by the existing building’s structure provided opportunities to create a variety of learning settings that aligned with the school’s educational directive. Closed, dark classrooms were opened up into flexible spaces providing greater light, ventilation and visual connection. Staff can now exercise a range of teaching methods with increased internal glazing and large writable sliding doors that are able to open up several spaces for gathering or close for focus groups. The quiet withdrawal and media rooms afforded by the inflexible existing structure now allow students to concurrently engage and be observed in a range of learning settings.
The Carlton Learning Precinct is the first in the City of Melbourne to combine Early Learning, Family Services, Community Hub facilities and a primary school into an existing school site, embracing a ‘whole of early years’ approach to health, wellbeing and education so families can connect from birth through primary school. The open-framed COLA provides a gymnasium amenity but its inherent openness successfully invites the neighborhood into the space, creating ownership beyond the school. Communal amenities around the outside provide direct access by community to facilitate the ongoing use of the court surface for weekend markets and promote future use.
Adaptive reuse is a growing opportunity especially for inner urban environments, so despite the building not lending itself to change, the decision to refurbish rather than rebuild was a considered attempt to reduce waste towards a more sustainable outcome. The brief required a full sized enclosed gymnasium without reducing the existing outdoor space. The budget would have allowed for a large metal shed with minimal windows. The breakthrough design moment was the stakeholder’s acceptance that an open COLA provides the amenity required but also facilitates the community use of the court surface for weekend markets and promotes future community use.
The new COLA met the gymnasium brief whilst providing an open, inviting and green element to the inner urban streetscape. The view of children playing in the space throughout the day, paired with community basketball at night, has connected the school and neighborhood, cementing the facility as a central, all-weather asset for Carlton.
The redevelopment has increased the School community’s pride, and in time will no doubt lead to increased enrolments. The work of Law Architects in collaboration with the stakeholders, showcases the potential of innovative urban design to challenge and ultimately change community perceptions. (Carlton Primary School comment)