2023 Victorian School Design Awards winners and finalists

2023 Victorian School Design Awards Winners and finalists

Minister for Education Ben Carroll announced the finalists and winners at an awards ceremony on 19 October at the State Library Victoria.

Thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to our winners.

The awards were open to architects who had government funding to build or improve public schools or kindergartens. Projects had to be completed between June 2021 and June 2023.

2023 winners

Best Kindergarten or Early Learning Centre

Winner – AOA Christopher Peck for their design of Pinewood Child & Family Hub

Completed in January 2023 for $5.06 million in partnership with Monash City Council.

This new centre replaced a smaller one, creating 36 extra kindergarten places. AOA faced challenges to retain as many of the much-loved mature trees as possible.

After consulting the community, AOA came up with a design that makes a feature of the surrounding Pinewood Reserve landscape. Large windows and wide open corridors create an indoor/outdoor flow for education and play. The building is set in the back corner of the reserve. Its boundary-hugging form making the most of the serene, green setting.

Materials are natural, toned down and passive. External cladding, decking and covered play areas use composite timber, that will weather in time. This blends well with the backdrop of mature canopy trees.

Inside, the material pallet remains subdued. White walls are set against feature timber panelling, pinboards and joinery. Conceived for young children, there’s a playful quality to the classrooms.

This building provides the extra needed kinder places with 2 kindergarten rooms, shared children’s bathrooms, and other spaces for staff and storage. The centre has 4 other rooms for maternal health care and consulting. There is also a multipurpose community room and public toilets.

The judges particularly praised what they saw as a very coherent design. They loved the strong sense of homeliness AOA created, as well as the indoor/outdoor connections.

Best School Project under $5 million

Winner – AOA Christopher Peck for their rebuild of Clifton Creek Primary School.

Completed in July 2022 for $4.27 million.

AOA Christopher Peck rebuilt this school after it suffered significant damage in the 2020 East Gippsland bushfires.

They wanted their design to reinforce the 100-year-long strong connection the school has to its community and region.

Working closely with the community, AOA produced a highly environmentally sustainable design. A highlight is the rammed earth walls using local Bairnsdale ochre sand. Sourced from down the road from the school, this material reduced the buildings carbon footprint, employed local trades, and enabled a superior thermal performance. It also has the 5 shields of the local Gunaikurnai tribes imprinted into the walls. The walls merge structure, sustainability, and the local Indigenous history into one story-telling element.

The rebuild involved 2 buildings. The main one accommodates Clifton Creek Primary School’s 50 students with 2 interconnecting classrooms. It also has a library, withdrawal room, staff office, staff lounge, staff meeting room, student toilets, a sickbay and IT/server room. The second building can also be used by the wider community. It includes a multipurpose and art space, food technology kitchen and bathroom.

Outside there’s a basketball/netball court, bus shelter/ sports stand, ‘secret garden’, bicycle track and parking. Various landscape features that survived the fire such as a mural wall, mosaic sculptures, the school bell, an outdoor stage and a pizza oven all became focal points of the design. These surviving relics serve as stories of the past

The judges praised this design for its connection to country, as well as to the school and wider community. The said it displayed a strong sense of history and renewal.

Finalist – ROAM Architects for their upgrade of a historic building at Chewton Primary School.

Completed in March 2023 for $1.42 million.

ROAM created a dynamic contemporary learning environment that works with the building’s setting and history.

Their design replaced old windows with new timber bi-folds. This allows greater transparency between the classrooms and corridors.

In the classrooms, new reading nooks create a place to retreat or gather in small groups. Matching seats in the corridor extend the learning space. Learning areas have become more modern and flexible for staff and students.

The modern renovations fit seamlessly into the heritage building and native bushland setting, promoting indoor/ outdoor learning.

ROAM’s design respected the school’s commitment to sustainability by reusing and repurposing removed materials. This was used to teach students about waste reduction targets.

Finalist – CO.OP Studio for their design of a wellness centre at Rosebud Secondary College.

Completed in October 2021 for $900,000.

CO.OP Studio located the centre in a part of the school away from the main campus. This provides privacy for students needing support. Their layout features a landscaped courtyard with a fish pond. It’s surrounded by a circular space for meditation and yoga, counselling rooms and staff workspaces.

The building’s form is simple. It’s completely clad in timber and has an elevated boardwalk connection to the school campus.

The timber will weather to blend with local beachside foliage. Windows and battened screens are strategically located to provide sufficient natural light and privacy.

The wellness centre is now an important part of how the school teaches young people about themselves and how they can self-regulate.

Best School Project Between $5 million and $10 million

Winner – Kerstin Thompson for their work on a new design and technology hub at Dandenong High School.

Completed in December 2022 for $8.46 million.

The architects transformed the school’s redundant, aging gym into a hub for design and technology studies.

The new hub has 8 collaborative learning neighbourhoods along a spine of informal and breakout spaces. This design encourages the mixing of ideas and techniques that is the foundation of STEM learning.

There are formal learning spaces designed for classes in engineering, robotics, design technology, and general STEM. They connect to specialist spaces for presentations, 3D printing, laser-cutting and woodwork. There’s also a VR lab and multipurpose maker spaces.

The architects reused the primary steel work of the original gym. This save costs and achieved a lower environmental footprint. It also allowed the building to have taller ceilings and double-height spaces.

This hub’s working environment encourages students to develop real world skills. It allows them to collaborate, learn independently, and experiment.

The judges loved the flexible learning environment that’s been created here, and the way it empowers students to pursue multi-disciplinary design projects. They thought the transparent walls were a clever way to encourage that and showcase student work. The final result was impressive for what it achieved within the budget.

Best School Project – Above $10 million

Brand Architects and Fieldwork for their design of the new Centre for High Education Studies in South Yarra.

Completed in September 2022 for $27.5 million plus additional planning funding.

The Centre for Higher Education Studies supports high-achieving Victorian government secondary school students. It offers them a unique pathway to tertiary education.

The 2 firms collaborated to design a multistorey centre, sleeved between high-rise buildings in Melbourne’s South Yarra. The challenging site inspired a central atrium, providing natural light, ventilation and a landscape of lush ferns.

They lined this dramatic lightwell with sustainably harvested Victorian Ash timber and expansive windows that offer glimpses of student activity.

The building features an auditorium, technology-rich learning spaces and tertiary-standard science and design labs. Four learning neighbourhoods over 2 levels are interspersed with social spaces. State-of-the-art audio-visual equipment allows virtual learning across Victoria.

The top floor offers break-out spaces and an extensive terrace for outdoor learning and recreation.

The use of laminated timber and concrete has been cleverly left exposed. Galvanized ductwork, electrical systems and fixings details are also visible, becoming tools for teaching and discussion.

The judges loved the way all the elements of this design worked together – the natural light, the landscaping and the detailing. Above all else, they felt Brand Architects and Fieldwork have created a great space for teaching.

Finalist – Jackson Clements Burrows Architects for their modernisation and expansion of Windsor Primary School.

Completed in June 2023 for just under $16 million.

Jackson Clements Burrows Architects significantly redeveloped the school, creating contemporary learning spaces and places for an extra 200 students.

The team designed 2 new teaching blocks as well as refurbishing the heritage Foundation Building. The project was split into 3 distinct phases to minimise disruption for the school and accommodate rising student numbers over the 2 years of construction.

Stage 1 was building a single-storey Specialist Learning Building. Stage 2 was a new 3-storey building, consisting of a multi-purpose hall, music room and classrooms. The final work involved upgrading staff administration areas and a creating a new learning resource centre in the Bastow-era Foundation Building.

The design successfully supports the school’s teaching and learning needs. The team have unravelled a campus of ad hoc structures to allow for growth and meet the needs of modern education.

The response also created a clear and well-defined landscape for outdoor learning and play. This includes a central courtyard with circular decking and newly planted swamp gums that will grow to create a soft and shady gathering zone.

The overall result is an exciting blend of heritage architecture and contemporary design. To help the merger, the architects chose red brickwork as a primary material to visually connect the old and the new.

Minister’s Award

This special award isn’t presented every year. It’s reserved to recognise an outstanding design or a unique entry that doesn’t neatly fit into any of the standard award categories.

Winner – AOA Christopher Peck for their rebuild of Clifton Creek Primary School.

This school was also the winner of Best School Project under $5 million.