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A Lesson in Empowering Play Through Self-determining Design

St Stephen’s Junior School upgrade by CODA (now COX Architecture) creates a new heart for the school where the children can take ownership of the space.



BY

December 13th, 2017


St Stephen’s Junior School in Duncraig Western Australia has been transformed into a playful new hub by CODA (now COX Architecture). The design team has created a new heart for the junior school by taking the existing library from the edge of the school and repositioning it in an underutilised atrium. The new area brings everything together into a central place, creating a community space for students, teachers and parents.

“We proposed a multi-purpose community hub that weaves together the school library, a performance space, and an open-plan kitchen along with areas for quiet learning and direct instruction,” explain the architects.

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“We built a story about village life through the creation of four distinct areas: the village green, town square, the street and the market.”
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Describing the driving concept, the architects say, “We developed the design approach around the idea of a village, pitched at the scale of a child while still being inviting to the entire school community. We built a story about village life through the creation of four distinct areas: the village green, town square, the street and the market.”

Self-determining design

Rather than simply dictating how the new village should be used, the design lends itself to flexible and varied uses.

In addition, it has been designed to allow the children to forge their own environments. “For the first time at the school, the young students are encouraged to take ownership of their environment through flexible, self-determining design. Learning ceases to be limited to adult instruction and is expanded to include skills in negotiation, communication and spatial awareness,” say the architects.

With moveable, low-budget furniture and careful colour application, the new junior school space offers flexibility.

By trialling a new mode of learning, this project helps to facilitate a school that sees itself as innovative, “it communicates an important shift towards a more progressive model of teaching and student-led learning for the school,” say the architects.

That flexibility plays out in other ways too, allowing it to expand and contract as needed. “With a loose and flexible arrangement, the entire school community can be comfortably accommodated as a whole or in smaller learning groups spread throughout the space,” explain the designers.

Experimenting with tech

Another way in which the school is pushing boundaries is through the integration of clever technology.

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“Technology, books and community are given equal weight by being placed together at the heart of school life.”
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“The new village integrates and embraces technology while celebrating the traditional acts of community and conversation. Green ‘street trees’ are actually playful charging portals allowing for a range of plug-in and wireless connections.

“For the first time technology, books and community are given equal weight by being placed together at the heart of school life,” say the architects.

Photography by Peter Bennetts.

This project was shortlisted in The Influencer category for the INDE.Awards 2017. Entries are open for 2018 until 29 January 2018.


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