SITE was commissioned by the Department of Finance to provide a new dedicated Science facility to replace existing transportable and non-dedicated spaces on the campus at Eaton Community College. The new facility includes 4 new General Science Labs and 2 dedicated Chemistry Labs, Staff and Preparation Areas and was to be located on the existing middle school hard courts.
With Understanding as one of our Practice values, we commenced the project with deep enquiry with key staff about the College site and cultural context. By understanding the unique Eaton Community College’s values and educational vision we could then design their new science facility to encourage and support their values and vision. The key values identified are:
- Diversity – Eaton Community College opened as a Middle School in 2003 and a 7 – 12 Senior High School in 2009. Their vision is to address the emotional, social, intellectual and academic needs specific to young teenagers. It also aims to create a learning environment which promotes in students a feeling of self-worth and confidence while also providing a quality educational experience for diverse student abilities, needs, and interests (including catering for students with ASD and other Special Educational Needs).
- Transparency – The College collaborates with neighbouring schools and local community organisations which encourages a strong collegial culture focused on continual teaching improvement. This involves colleague critiques through classroom observation to improve teaching and learning practices across the College.
We started the process by facilitating a workshop involving key College staff and Department of Education personnel. We challenged traditional Science room models using local, national and international examples of innovative science learning environments. We questioned the Head of Science’s current modes of teaching which were conditioned by their existing limited facilities. We queried other, extra-curricular interests, both College and personal which opened up a very different dialogue between SITE and the staff on the possibilities and opportunities the new facility could provide including STEAM learning and local community group programs.
We arranged site visits to a number of innovative science facilities around Perth so the College’s key staff could see and hear about how these different, flexible science learning environments work. We also met with the local Council to discuss community use potential.
The standard brief is relatively fixed yet we actively engaged with staff and DoE on a journey of continual enquiry and collaboration. This pushed the prescribed brief to create a more usable, flexible learning environment which also activated and revitalised other spaces on the campus.
The emergent brief included 2 Chemistry Labs and 2 General Labs around 2 flexible creative spaces and staff / preparation area with strong visibility, student accessibility and external landscape connection. Our brief and masterplan emerged with the following objectives:
- Retain the existing highly used basketball courts,
- Repurpose an underutilised open grassed area disconnecting the Campus.
- Resolve to create a physical link connecting the 2 main campus learning area clusters,
- Repurpose an existing dysfunctional staff work and storage area,
- Provide a flexible learning environment for STEM based activities in the heart of the campus.
- Create a number of different outdoor learning environments directly connected to the Lab and Breakout spaces.
- Create a new robust building edge on the basketball court, graphically representing wave energy and concealing sensitive services.
We aimed to use this project to improve the usability of the existing two main campus general learning clusters by creating an exciting, ‘drop-in’, exhibition hub of innovation for the campus. With a STEM/STEAM focus, we approached the project as a series of additional internal and external learning environments, central to the existing campus and arranged for science / technology-based activities and support spaces for all curriculum activities.
The 5 laboratories have a typical perimeter bench with power, water and gas. These spaces are mostly interchangeable with each designed to offer different teaching/learning opportunities through their different connections with: the prep lab, central breakout space, adjacent Labs, different landscape/external learning areas and the maker space. Encouraging team teaching, this allows room bookings to suit teacher lesson requirements rather than being dedicated to a particular teacher.
The central maker space connects to the external wetland and has space for storing gumboots, timber benches and storage area concealing sinks, services and a soldering station. It’s designed to be accessible for other external groups/community use.
The spaces are designed to encourage teachers to work more together. All labs have a strong visual and physical connection through the central break out space to each other. The two central flexible maker labs have large sliding doors which open up and combine with the central breakout space to create a single large teaching and exhibition space. The Science preparation space is celebrated within the heart of the breakout space as equipment, chemicals and experiments can be seen being prepared behind the large retractable glass sliding windows. The prep space becomes a hub promoting enquiry and encouraging staff to continually interact with students.
The western College entrance incorporates the art installation as a symbol to science, biology and making. The coloured hexagonal symbols continue into the architecture and landscape reinforcing the identity of this new science place. The material palette references the language of the existing buildings through patterned blockwork with high level polycarbonate sheeting. This allows natural light as well as exposing the structure to engage student’s curiosity in engineering principles.
Additionally, the site is surrounded by mature trees and contains two hectares of wetlands. Our response was to create a simple roof with minimal gutters to run off into drainage swales contributing to the micro-wetland landscape. Integral to the internal learning environments which are characterised by naturally lit, volumous spaces, the landscape creates natural lessons in bio-diversity.