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“It’s about people and place” – education design in 2021

How can we design our schools to better support our people and enrich our sense of community? Indesign Editor, Alice Blackwood, talks education and urbanism in 2021.

“It’s about people and place” – education design in 2021

Jacaranda nursery and kindergarten in Milan, Italy by Labics, photo by Marco Cappelletti and Delfino Sisto Legnani

If you’re a committed follower of Indesign, then you’ll have noticed the last three months we’ve devoted ourselves to tracing the rapidly evolving shifts in workplace design. As we fast approach 8 July and the release of Indesign #84, we’re shifting gears to focus on one of my favourite topics – education design. But not just any style of education design, this year it’s all about ‘education and urbanism’.

We’ve long been preoccupied with the influence of digital technology, and agile working styles, on modern educational spaces. You may recall Leanne Amodeo’s article for Indesign on early learning spaces for digital natives (2019) or her more recent piece on Collaboration For The Future (2020) featuring MLC Senior School by BVN). It’s all still so relevant, it’s just that the conversation has shifted.


MLC Senior Centre by BVN, photo by Ben Guthrie

In 2021, I feel the emphasis on people and community has become incredibly important to us, and never more-so than in the design of our education buildings and precincts. Over the next few months we’ll be looking beyond the dynamics of teaching and learning environments, and expanding our viewpoint to consider the role of our schools and universities in building social capital within our towns and cities.

A couple of great cases in point quickly come to mind. Featured in Issue #84 and shortlisted for the INDE.Awards, Docklands Primary School by Cox Architecture rethinks the role of the school in the urban environment. The Docklands is unfortunately best known for being the inhospitable add-on to Melbourne’s bustling CBD. This new primary school isn’t afraid to broach it windy, hard-planed surrounds through the terraced design of its buildings, nor pull the surrounding community in close through a ‘verdant haven’ of amenity and ‘rich learning terrain’.


Docklands Primary School by Cox Architecture, photo by Peter Clarke

There’s also the INDE.Awards shortlisted Hayman Theatre Upgrade by With_Architecture Studio in WA. This project puts arts and performance spaces at the centre of Curtin University’s ‘historic heart’. It’s a major drawcard for new students, external performances (particularly via local festivals), and modernises both accessibility and amenity, housing the state’s first gender neutral toilets.

So many great projects out there, but they’d be nothing without the people involved. Each quarter we invite leading practitioners to contribute thought-leadership pieces on the areas for which they are most passionate. To give you an idea of what’s coming up, I’ll share a small excerpt from Mark van den Enden, Architectus national education sector leader.


Hayman Theatre Upgrade at Curtin University by With_Architecture Studio, photo by Douglas Mark Black

He writes: “Islands no more, [schools] play a critical role in new suburbs by establishing a community’s identity. Rather than keeping the public out, schools have increasingly invited it in, creating connections that extend well beyond the learners’ school years to act as the glue and connective tissue of communities by building enduring connections.

“This made me think: what are the components of a modern school?”

Well, we’ll soon find out.

Keep your eyes peeled for Indesign #84, our ‘Education and Urbanism’ issue, on sale 8 July 2021. Pre-order your copy now, or even better subscribe now to never miss a beat.


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