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Vertical Schools Reaching New Heights

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In early June, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews toured the construction site of Prahran High School, due to open its doors in 2019. That a politician visits a school, in and of itself, is not particularly noteworthy. Except, Prahran High School is one of the first Government schools in Victoria to go vertical, as increasing urbanisation creates scarcity of land for educational facilities. Prahran High School joins a growing number of vertical schools across the country, with Victoria’s first vertical government school opening earlier this year.

Back in 2015, the NSW government put out a report entitled School Assets and Student Outcomes, which contained its findings into vertical schools. It identified the need for vertical schools to tackle urban overcrowding and claimed that vertical schools would benefit from using their immediate urban environment as an extension of their classrooms. 

Upward Design

In response to overcrowding in some schools, particularly in urban areas, there has been a move towards designing multi-storey, so-called ‘vertical’ school buildings. These have been built to make effective use of small urban sites and reduce the need for children to commute long distances.

There are now many vertical schools in the United States, Asia and Europe.

There are now many vertical schools in the United States, Asia and Europe. Although, there are some architectural case studies on these schools, there does not currently appear to be any empirical research into the effect of these environments on student outcomes. 

The latest studies on vertical schools has focussed on the challenges associated with integrating outdoor play spaces and sports facilities and concerns about supervision and safety.

Urban Environment as Extended Classroom 

In response to some of these challenges, Roy Strickland, director of the urban design programme at the University of Michigan, developed the City of Learning strategy. The plan advocates using the urban environment as an extended classroom by utilising the resources available in the local area, including museums, libraries and playing fields. 

Prahran High School will be constructed over five levels with direct access to outdoor learning terraces. There will also be a large central atrium running through the building to create a focal meeting point. It will accommodate 650 students from year 7 to 12 and will have state of the art facilities as well as music and drama areas, a library, gym and visual arts, sciences and technology spaces.

The state’s first vertical school, Haileybury City Campus, opened in January 2017.

The state’s first vertical school, Haileybury City Campus, opened in January 2017.

Haileybury was designed from the shell of a ten-storey office building and has all the benefits of a conventional school, including a sports hall and university level science labs. Students arrive at school via an underground basement, and there is bike storage provided. The private school also manages to offer 1,500 square metres of outdoor spaces and gardens for the 800 students who attend.

The South Australian, New South Wales and Queensland governments have also committed to funding vertical schools within their most densely populated cities.

Landmark Education Project

The integrated redevelopment of Arthur Phillip High School (APHS) and Parramatta Public School in NSW is a landmark education project. It will be the state’s first public high-rise school and the prototype for future-focused learning integrated with curriculum-based studies. Designed by architects Grimshaw Global, the high school will be 17 storeys high while the primary school is four storeys.

Andrew Cortese, Grimshaw Managing Partner, told Jobsite about some of the issues facing major capital cities over the next 30 years in terms of education: 

“The issue that we are confronted with in the next three decades in both Sydney and Melbourne, but also in other capitals, is the confluence of the government's strategic or deferred response to the demographic profile of the significant acceleration in population growth to the need to respond to the spatial, social and pedagogical principles related to future focus learning curriculums. Both responses require the reconfiguration and expansion of existing schools or the construction of entirely new schools. 

The integrated redevelopment of Arthur Phillip High School (APHS) and Parramatta Public School in NSW is a landmark education project.

“Vertically-programmed, future-focussed learning schools allow for the accommodation of more than 2,000 students on reduced footprints, within town centres, adjacent to transport nodes and with an equivalent area of stacked open space to traditional low-rise schools on large land footprints. In addition, the lower level programmes are designed to operate as shared facilities with school-related communities, be that performance and meeting spaces, after hour learning, specialist maker spaces, or the use of open space for markets or sports,” he continued.

“The interest in the typology which combines vertical with future-focussed learning has been speculated over the last two decades. However, it is only recently the commitment to proceed has consolidated. Arthur Philip High School has brief and agenda that situates it as a leading international example of this initiative,” said Cortese.

Demand for New Schools 

It is estimated in NSW alone, there will be a 41 per cent growth rate of school-aged children requiring school places in the next ten years. With increased urbanisation, it seems the only way is up.

In Newcastle, there are plans for a 12-storey school in the newly revitalised West End. Each floor will house a different year group from Kindergarten to year 12 at the top. The 4,000 sqm block will teach 1,250 students and include an indoor sports hall, function centres, lecture theatres and classrooms.

It is estimated in NSW alone, there will be a 41 per cent growth rate of school-aged children requiring school places in the next ten years.

“The intention for vertical schools is to provide a corresponding amount of usable open space per student as traditional schools (nominally 10 sqm per student),” says Cortese. “However, that may be reconciled into shared community accessible open space.”

Also in NSW is the new Surry Hills High School scheduled for completion in 2020. It will contain 47 classrooms, a gym and a grassed rooftop that will fit 1,200 new students. St Patricks Cathedral College is also due to open in 2020 and will house 2,000 new students. In line with changing family life and work commitments, the school will be open from 6am until 6pm. 

In Queensland, the government has announced a $500m proposal to build two vertical schools in inner-city Brisbane — the first schools to be built in the city since 1963. In the last ten years, more than 5,000 students have been added to the state school system. It is estimated an additional 3,000 are going to join them in the next five years, making it imperative there are new schools for them to attend in an already squeezed urban environment.

“Without hesitation, vertical schools will become ubiquitous amongst our most significant town centres on major transport nodes. Perhaps we could promote learning led urban renewal as the most import social initiative,” concluded Cortese.

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