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Architecture that seeks to empower young women

The main administration wing, with its stucco tower, is a reminder of the school’s past.

MCR‘s scheme, the result of a limited competition, responded to both Hudson and Wardrop design, with its cloistered courtyard, as much as to Edna Walling’s gardens.

MCR was also keen to empower young women through its architecture.

“If you look at where many of the jobs will be in the future, it’s in the STEM fields,” says Ryan.

As with many of the historic buildings on the senior school campus, each elevation has its own unique characteristics. Likewise, the new STEM wing, almost embracing the manicured sporting lawns, has four differently treated facades.

The southern elevation, for example, comprises seven different coloured bricks, from beige through to grey and windows beautifully detailed with crevices to speak to a more ornate style from the past.

The main auditorium features a laser cut MDF ceiling with a floral motif.

The main auditorium features a laser cut MDF ceiling with a floral motif.Credit:

“We didn’t want STEM to ‘scream attention’ from the street. It’s more of a quiet contemporary reference,” says Ryan.

However, the STEM wing’s northern elevation, with its dramatic curved facade and rhythmic placement of windows that comes as a surprise.

“The starting point was slicing into a cylindrical cone and tilting it on its side,” says Ryan. Entering STEM is akin to stepping into a brave new world.

The main auditorium, for example, features a laser cut MDF ceiling with a floral motif and is lined with fabric for acoustic control.

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Here, again, the homage to Edna Walling is apparent. “Nature is an important part of the STEM program,” she adds.

The main ‘streetscape’, with its west and east entrances, is also fresh and contemporary with sinuous snake-like seating in bright red upholstery snaking itself from one end to the other.

Loosely arranged chairs and tables allow students to study informally or simply catch up. “We wanted the spaces to be engaging as well as comfortable and offering a level of flexibility,” says Ryan.

The two ‘super labs’ adjacent to these breakout spaces, are also flanked by a variety of seating arrangements for students.

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“We also wanted to make the labs pleasurable to be in, rather than feeling clinical,’ says Ryan, a tour-de-force when it comes to colour having created a strong dose of blue walls in the mix.

One of the most powerful spaces in the STEM design is the boardroom, a domain often given over to men.

“We wanted to allow these young women to know how it felt to occupy a space that’s not always readily accessible,” says Ryan, pointing out the impressive distant views over Port Phillip Bay.

Used by both staff and students, the boardroom was also delivered with great comfort, with chairs and furniture that could easily be found in a boardroom.

MCR also considered each pathway to offer an experience rather than simply a means of navigating the building.

The dramatic timber-battened spotted gum timber staircase connecting the two levels, frames an outdoor laboratory as well as further activating this new wonder.

“The starting point was about the history of the original buildings, but at the same time setting up young women to embrace the STEM fields as much as contemporary architecture,” adds Ryan.

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