The rise and rise of vertical schools

by | Feb 19, 2021 | Building design trends, Livable cities and reforms

Expanding urban populations and land scarcity in our capital cities are the driving force behind the increasing number of vertical schools in development. Approximately 200 new schools are needed in both New South Wales and Victoria each year for the next decade to meet demand, according to the Grattan Institute, with Queensland not far behind.

The NSW Government is building up instead of out so as to maximise space while creating shared facilities that can also be used by the local community, such as gyms, pools and cafés.

Using the infrastructure model used by NSW Health, the NSW Department of Education is investing $6 billion over the next four years to deliver more than 170 new and upgraded schools across the state. It is the largest investment in public education infrastructure in the history of NSW.

High-rise revolution in education

There are five vertical schools planned for Greater Sydney, including the 17-storey Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta, for which MBC Group provided Crown Certification services.

The state’s first high-rise school, Arthur Phillip High School features adaptable room configurations with moveable furniture that opens up opportunities for collaboration. There are personalised learning specialised development hubs for science, metal work, wood work, 3D design, food technology, performance, music and textiles and a double size multi-sport gymnasium.

The precedent for Arthur Phillip High School is the brutalist design of St Andrew’s Cathedral School located right next to Sydney Town Hall, and designed by Noel Bell and Herbert F. Hely in 1976.

Parramatta Public School (designed by Grimshaw Architects and BVN) is located right in bustling Parramatta CBD and close to the University of Western Sydney Parramatta Campus, which occupies ten floors of a 14-storey building adjacent to the railway station.

Inner Sydney High School, boasting 14-storeys, is adjacent to Central Station, making it highly accessible for students across the city. While the 12-storey Newcastle West End school features a different school year on each level, from kindergarten on ground level, to Year 12 on top.

In Melbourne, the Haileybury City Campus (Darren Carnell Architects) is a refurbished 10-storey former call centre featuring two floors of art facilities, a drama studio, sports hall, science labs and incorporating 15-square metres of outdoor spaces and gardens for 800 students from early learning to year 12.

In Adelaide, the new Botanic High School in the CBD, designed by Cox Architecture, DesignInc, AECOM and TCL, is a highly sustainable development which includes a refurbished building plus a six-storey new building, including an indoor gym and rooftop terrace.

Impacts on building certification

Vertical school campuses are highly complex projects that require a performance-based approach to building certification. The height of the buildings means there are more risks when it comes to fire safety and security, and additional design elements that need consideration, such as:

  • Fire safety systems and processes
  • Air-conditioning and other building services
  • Outdoor play areas and learning spaces
  • Parent pick-up and drop-off points
  • Circulation between learning spaces
  • Accessibility elements such as ramps and staircases
  • Complex foundations and façades
  • Roads and urban planning in the immediate area
  • Integration with commercial and retail space
  • Public access to gyms, laboratories and other spaces.

MBC Group’s team of accredited Building Certifiers are working closely with the NSW Department of Education to ensure vertical schools in Sydney are compliant with the Building Code of Australia.

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