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Day 1, 3 Rs kicks off in Sydney

I have been attending the Learning Environments Australasia annual regional conference since 2013. It has been invaluable in developing my understanding of the issues involved in the design of a learning space. Through this I have got to know a network or community of others passionate about the potential of education and the spaces it needs. The following are some highlights and musings from the first day of this year’s conference.

Welcome to the Country

Auntie Anna provided the welcome to the conference from the traditional owners of the land. More than just a welcome, she also spoke of some of the issues affecting her community. NZ has been occupied by people for less than 1000 years, so it was fascinating to hear Auntie Anna speak of aboriginal teaching methods, both oral and practical that have passed her people’s knowledge down through the generations for tens of thousands of years. I would like to know more.

Opening Message from Hon. Rob Stokes – Minister of Education

I was impressed with the minister’s extensive knowledge of both architectural and educational history. I don’t remember a politician being about to cite renaissance architect writer Leon Battista Alberti, weaving this into a talk on the last 100 years of school design.

He had three key pleas to be considered.

  • School buildings need to deal better with an increasingly warm climate, where they are spending more each year on the cost of active cooling.

  • Flexible building that can look forward and adapt over time to different pedagogies.

  • Schools need to be more inclusive for the lifelong learning of the whole community, more permeable with shared spaces rather than being segregated behind fences.

Keynote – Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi was one of highlights of the conference. A common question is – where is the evidence? The work of Pasi is one of the first places to visits. His interests are the big questions – the design of the overall systems.

Most people know that Finland’s education system is notable, but as Pasi pointed out, a lot of us including myself have misconceptions. His story started with Finlands rise to prominence through PISA testing starting in 2000. Finland’s success was as much a surprise to then. They expected others to do better, especially as they were not particularly focused on testing comparted to other nations. His lessons from years of subsequent research are;

1. Competition and test-based accountability leads to the wrong type of thinking – (topical as NZ has just removed its much-discussed standards system).

2. Watch out for false news. There are a lot of false stories about Finland's

success, including articles I have read on “flash” websites such as The Guardian.

  • It is false that Finland have no subjects, but the great story is that students must be engaged in the planning and evaluation of their projects.

  • It is false that there is no homework.

  • It is false the best and the brightest become teachers. Teaching is a highly desired profession in Finland, not just due to pay. Applications for places are oversubscribed, but successful applicants are chosen for their human qualities rather than academic success.

3. The secrets of success.

  • Pursuit of excellence through “Equity”

a. Fair and needs based funding

b. Focus on well-being and whole child

c. Trust in school’s ability to decide what works

  • Building collaborative cultures.

  • Pay more attention to small data

Most retweeted quote from Pasi’s talk.

“The main challenge in improving education is NOT just about teachers or children. It is how to create collaborative cultures that would empower schools to do what they could."

The answer to the question it seems only I was asking. I believe Pasi was wearing an Adidas colab with Pharrell Williams, limited edition polka dot Stan Smith sneaker.

Lots of starting points here for further reading and I need more sneakers.

Mayfield Presentation

On cue following Pasi, the 2018 Mayfield Project took stage. They are a biannual research project by our young professionals, who following workshops with NoTosh came to ask some striking questions;

  • How do we create space for everyone to learn?

  • Where do teachers learn?

  • The importance of entry to a school. Is it a barrier or does it welcome in. How does it link to the community?

  • The importance of incidental learning

On Tour 201

Ravenswood School for Girls

My first site tour of the conference was out over Sydney Harbour Bridge to see the Mabel Fidler Building at Ravenswood School for Girls. It is a striking building that most of the Australian’s on the bus seemed to know. It had been published widely and won awards.

There is sometimes been a tendency in New Zealand to look at some Australian educational buildings, throw up our hands and mutter “well that’s great for them but this is a long way from what we can do in New Zealand, what’s the point in looking at that”. At first glance this seemed like the perfect example with its angular form (I have been told off for trying to do angles) and 13m cantilevers. But, as walking around with my hands in the air did not seemed appropriate (and doesn’t work with crutches), I continued the tour.

I was interested to visit the school as this building seeks provide both a new entrance and central hub. Having kept my hands down the whole tour, I believe that real strength of the project by BVN is its genesis in a first stage master plan on a site with many changes in level. The building operates less as an object in space and more a way to link different parts of the campus together, at each point responding to its site context.

The building literally forms the entrance, as you move up series of step underneath one of the forms operating as a canopy. It is broken down into a series of forms linked together with of bridging elements. This bridging continues beyond the building, seeking to link in all the surrounding buildings into its network of circulation.

From the top of the steps we moved into the library/school reception with my favorite space, a double height reading space foyer in front of large glazed screen looking over a green playing field. The inviting reading chairs covered in a green that matched the grass of the field. Rather than the library being a very centred Grand Central Station library space it felt like a lattice-like network of separate intimate internal spaces warm with intricate plywood detailing bridged together. It seems, the central hub is maybe the spaces it creates between the buildings.

There was much discussion in the group about the merits of the buildings construction, an innovative form of climate façade using two skins of multi cellar polycarbonate cladding. Would it last? Would it overheat? It did light up like a lantern and provide too much glare to some spaces.

Wahroonga Adventist School

Earlier in the day, Rob Stokes, the NSW Minister of Education had outlined the states task ahead, dealing with a significant projected growth over the next few decades. This included, I think, 134 new schools.

Wahroonga Adventist School is an example of the issues this growth brings and how to deal with density. Currently being rebuilt on its current site with the first building already finished, it will eventually be a series of tightly packed vertical medium rise buildings, built over a basement car park that covers the entire site.


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