PLC Sydney’s new Hamilton Building, with associated immersive learning environment, was designed in collaboration between the Architects and Landscape Architects of NBRSARCHITECURE. The project vision was to create environments that inspire students to become involved in STEM, conservation and the protection of our environment.
The NBRS team developed a collaborative relationship with PLC to ensure that designs supported learning and development. This unique relationship ensured that the landscape design was both an integral part of the new campus and a vital teaching tool. To identify best practice the team visited a variety of schools. This included schools in Queenstown, New Zealand to discover how to build a sense of intimacy and openness, as well as how the geographical landscape could be connected to the classroom. A virtual tour of Japan allowed the team to explore alternative ways to connect outdoor landscaping to buildings. Through a consultation process with the Principal, the leadership team, academic staff and parent community NBRS was able to understand and fulfil the school’s objectives. Our team listened, understand differing objectives and developed common goals between the various stakeholders.
• Inspiring students to become involved in science and conservation
• Allowing for excellence in STEM
• Creating a connection to the real world
• Scaling the campus to make it appear welcoming to younger students
• Following the principles of ‘intimacy’ and ‘openness’
Working within an Existing Campus
Inserting a new Junior School within an existing campus posed challenges such as working within a live site and respecting existing features. There was a sense of intimacy and scale appropriate to a junior school facility that the team aimed to build upon. The team responded by enhancing the existing herb and vegetable gardens and creating links to outdoor gardens from all internal spaces. A desire to retain an established large tree resulted in the tree becoming a focal point of the outdoor space.
To support the School’s desire to excel in STEM, opportunities for students to interact with science and nature were included. Featuring a turtle pond, insectarium, native bee “hotel”, vegetable gardens, and electronic weather station, the new landscape provides a space for students to push their interest in STEM fields in an engaging way. Through integrating these elements into a space that is designed to promote active play, the School’s grounds intertwine traditional play and learning.
The turtle pond design incorporates multiple glass viewing panels for observation of underwater creatures, giving an above and below water view (one is also positioned inside the classroom). Interpretative signage allows the identification of the pond inhabitants and provides information on ecology and life-cycles. Planting fringing the ponds provides habitat areas for turtles. Carefully placed logs and rocks allow ease of movement between land and water.
The invertebrate enclosure allows an immersive experience as students enter the climate-controlled dome structure to experience insects. Here children can observe under instruction from a Zookeeper and learn about the breeding process that occurs in an adjoining hatchery building. In 2019 the school engaged in a turtle breeding program that will see hundreds of hatchlings returned to the wild to re-populate rivers within the Sydney basin.
A native bee ‘hotel’ structure provides a safe and secure environment for bees and ease of observation for the students. Plant species were chosen specifically for their ability to attract native bees (which are non-stinging) and butterflies. Through having these immersive spaces students can explore nature and become more exposed to real world science in an unintimidating way. Introducing the unfamiliar to the familiar gives young students the perfect avenue to explore new ways of thinking. The resulting designs are imaginative, playful and intriguing.
The landscape promotes a sustainable lifestyle through the inclusion of recycling waste and water harvesting. A weather monitoring station measures a range of atmospheric conditions and transmits results back to classrooms. Students can learn the concept of paddock to plate, where they can plant, cultivate, harvest and then prepare food.
PLC Sydney has been recognised by Cambridge University as one of the world’s 100 most innovative schools due to their teaching approach, learning programs and innovative facilities. To further this innovate approach, PLC has established links with Taronga Zoo with a view to providing rehabilitation and breeding programs for vulnerable native species.
“The result in design is a triumph. One telling indicator of its value is the raucous joy with which it has been received. The girls love learning in it and the parents celebrate the community of learning that results.” Dr Paul Burgis – Principal
Name of the project: PLC, Sydney – Hamilton Building Immersive Play Space
Project category: Schools and Playgrounds
Project location: Australia, Sydney, NSW
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2017