When picturing a classroom, you might envisage rows of simple desks with a teacher and a board at the front. But Matthews Architects is setting a new precedent.
August 19th, 2021
South Australia’s Matthews Architects have forged a name designing tailored, well-crafted and long lasting educational spaces, all while subverting concepts of traditional classroom design.
“There is no such thing as a standard classroom anymore,” says managing director and senior architect at Matthews Architects, Gerald Matthews.
“And more importantly, learning no longer starts and stops at the threshold. The entirety of the student experience is important to the process of learning and design has an important role to play in shaping a range of diverse environments that support different modes of learning,” says Matthews.
Considering this perspective, it’s no surprise that Matthews Architects are true purveyors of innovative learning environments. From designing high-tech research facilities including laboratories for The University of Adelaide, to repurposing historic school buildings, their work is state-of-the-art.
To achieve this innovation, a common thread that takes precedence in each of these spaces is the focus on time. Matthews discusses how over time, humans grow to become more future oriented, helping them to study and plan. But, he says, “the ability to return to a healthy present orientation can enable meaningful ‘in the moment’ experiences and genuine human connections. A healthy past orientation provides emotional grounding and perspective”. It’s this concept that underpins his educational design philosophy.
“The key to successful educational design is to nurture an ability to fluidly transition between past, present and future orientations,” says Matthews.
Matthews Architects’ unique focus on time allowed the update to Walford Anglican School For Girls’ design and technology department to be “an ode to the past and the future”. Ornate ceiling cornices are kept in their original condition, serving as reminders of the building’s past life, yet are accessorised by metal cable trays that become modern renditions of a cornice. Matthews Architects continue to work with Walford School on the deployment of their senior campus masterplan.
As the traditional classroom is superseded and integrated technology becomes tantamount, the studio ensures function works simultaneously with aesthetics.
“It is important not to see functionality and beauty as things that are at odds or in competition with each other,” says Matthews. “A beautiful design that is functionally deficient is a bad design. Good design simultaneously resolves functional requirements and aesthetic quality.”
The craft of addressing a project’s functional requirements in a way that naturally leads to beautiful design outcomes takes years of training, says Matthews, yet when perfected “appears effortless”.
The refurbishment of The University of Adelaide Johnson Building upgrade is testament to this. The design enhances opportunities for students to work collaboratively through the computer lab, “wet lab” and flexible social learning spaces.
Matthews Architects’ design for the Walford Anglican School for Girls science laboratory also sees function meet aesthetic. Wooden ceiling cladding curves and runs down the wall, acting to break up the sterile white of the labs while also creating carefully controlled acoustic conditions to encourage calm and focus.
Matthews Architects are currently at varying stages across projects for multiple schools, including St Peter’s College and Ngutu College, and with the University of Adelaide’s Food Science Laboratory and the Materials Bio-Engineering Laboratories.
“Every school is different. The environments, communities, educators and aspirations of every school shape their individual needs. For this reason, we believe in the importance of tailored, well-crafted and lasting investments in learning environments. Our entire design process is built on deep and meaningful engagement with every school we work with,” says Matthews.
It’s this tailored, innovative approach that makes Matthews Architects one to watch.
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