The building’s curved form is generated through pure geometry; a cylinder tilted and trimmed, illustrating the simple patterns behind complex outcomes. The building also references the interconnection between science and nature, reinforcing science as a process of uncovering nature, rather than separate from it.
Toorak College is an independent school established for girls in 1897. Unlike many inner-city schools, Toorak College’s more regional location at Mount Eliza affords it more space for expansive buildings and grounds. At establishment, the school left a legacy of high-quality design: originating from a masterplan by Hudson & Wardrop and landscaping by Edna Walling, the school features brick quadrangles interwoven with grass-surrounded long-walks through the campus.
The brief was to design a STEM educational building. With a sustained downward trend of women engaged in STEM fields, schools play a critical role in encouraging girls to enter the pipeline early. The new Swift Science and Technology Centre, building upon the original campus’ legacy, strives to inspire girls about the power of STEM and to prompt students to reconsider their abilities within STEM.
The interior environment is awash with STEM imagery, highlighting the interconnection between science and nature. Internally, the ceiling patterning features silhouettes of sea creatures interwoven amongst floral patterns, making reference to both the biological profession as well as Edna Walling’s original garden. The design also celebrates Edna Walling and her pioneering work as a successful woman. Realising the ceiling’s bespoke and variant patterning required extensive acoustic engineer collaboration to meet high acoustic standards.
Along the central streetspace, snaking plywood walls create several smaller intimate spaces for informal learning and collaboration, encouraging lab activities to spill out. Its meandering shape is defined by multiple pure geometrical segments, articulating its mathematical origins. The plywood walls swell in height as users walk past, creating a variety of private and semi-enclosed booths.
Within each lab, traditional student-teacher hierarchies are challenged: student desks are interspersed with teaching tables, encouraging teachers to roam, creating a fluid learning environment. Colour gently subdivides classrooms between theoretical and practical spaces. As STEM disciplines become increasingly siloed, the centre reconnects the Digi Room, Physics, Chemistry and Biology Labs along a core street space adjacent to the curved façade. Lab activities spill out onto the street space while seating encourages informal learning and collaboration. The Centre’s boardroom is also designed for student access, setting them up for success through familiarity.
Much like how natural forms arise due to environmental conditions, the building’s form reflects an adaptation to its landscape: the northern façade is angled downwards, minimising direct sunlight exposure and glare without compromising on daylight and maintaining sweeping views of the adjacent sports field. Further, the building’s positioning and mass help protect the sports field from coastal winds. On the Southern façade, reduced glazing minimises heat loads while the brick wall acts as thermal massing. The rooftop solar is hoped to meet the building’s energy needs.
Through its formal and material expression, the Centre is continually looking forwards and back, combining tradition with progression. Spotted gum timber is married with complex brick patterning and aluminium panelling. The southern façade’s modest yet intricate brick patterning, facing the surrounding neighbourhood, respectfully acknowledges and maintains the visual language of the school’s existing buildings; while the dynamic northern façade, gently framing the oval and connecting the campus buildings, symbolises advancement. This contrast reminds students how STEM is a balance of looking to the past and future, balancing nature and innovation, questioning and considering what we can discover.