For a number of years, McBride Charles Ryan (MCR) has worked on the Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) senior campus, developing a series of projects. Each project has been tailored to provide a unique response to the PEGS learning communities and develop a rich campus with a diverse architectural experience. The campus development rethinks the secondary educational space as a kind of wondrous mini-city. Preparation for senior students to become vital civically engaged members of the community. This latest building is the ‘Palazzo della Regione’ of the mini-city. The meeting place of the school community as well as the place where the school most visibly interacts with the larger community. The design has been developed to provide a building with a flexible, utilitarian function and an unmistakable civic presence.
The new facility is wedged between the prescribed carpark to the west and silently integrates the adjacent existing gymnasium to the east. The project includes significant upgrades to the structure, floor and finishes of the existing gymnasium. A full height operable wall connects the two buildings internally, instantly doubling the area for performance and competition. Externally, the new building sits snugly beside the existing, maintaining its distinct character as an urban centre. To the north, the building frames the main school oval, heightening the drama of the field of play and intensifying the engagement between players and spectators. The south façade is the main civic interface. A colonnade articulates permeability at pedestrian level and scalloped brickwork proudly greets entrants to the school. A hierarchy of facade systems was established to prioritise budget expenditure on the most critical public interfaces. The natural topography of the site is absorbed by tiered seating on the south and west flanks of the main gymnasium, providing flexible capacity for large school gatherings, spectators or informal teaching. The decision to follow the natural topography had the added benefit of reducing significant costs for excavation and site works.
The building is bulging with program. Two full length basketball courts, tiered seating, fitness centre, student amenities, offices, classrooms, storage, multipurpose and function rooms are contained within a singular volume. This intensity strengthens the building’s civic qualities, where diverse events occur within and around.
Close collaboration with the primary consultant team was a necessity. Fixed regulatory, structural and services requirements became design drivers in the project. The vaulted ceiling of over three metres deep both conceals steel trusses required for the structural span and funnels hot air to operable skylights, providing natural lighting and cooling during high temperatures and activity. A sustainable and affordable design solution preventing the exhaustive consumption of energy to mechanically cool such a large volume of space. Six sets of double doors on the north and south facades can be opened for optimal natural ventilation. An act that filters both cool air and student activity through the building. The flat roof accommodates a large Photovoltaic farm which assists in providing electricity to the gym during the day.