A professional resource for the design curious

Get the latest design news direct to your inbox!

Community and a sense of belonging at William Ruthven Secondary School

Gone are the days of hierarchical boundaries in the learning space. Kneeler Design Architects has prepared students for success with a collaborative, inspiring and engaging environment.

To embrace the 21st century learning model is to allow for a more collaborative and flexible approach to the educational system and its environment. The William Ruthven Secondary College is dedicated to changing the public’s perception of the school into a considered, forward-thinking learning space. Melbourne-based practice Kneeler Design Architects took on a project that represents a shift in culture and pedagogy at William Ruthven.

The brief consisted of the production of three new buildings, set out along a linear wave that runs from the east to the west of the site. The project stemmed from key education principles that address community as a sense of belonging and an innate sense of flexibility and versatility throughout the space. Designed to enhance both the students and teachers learning experience, there is the ever-present act of continuous exchange. This defines the boundaries, spatial program and transparencies throughout the space – encouraging a collaborative and connective atmosphere.

The spaces are inclusive of everyone – welcoming every individual to have a sense of co-ownership within the space. This is designed to mitigate the perpetuating old hierarchies between teachers, staff and students and the importance of one discipline over another. ‘Flexible Learning Areas’ consist of teacher stations and on-going classes are situated alongside teachers who may be preparing lesson plans. These zones also offer a retreat for students to comfortably do work during free periods. Screening technology and movable modular furniture adorn the space, giving the occupants versatile and dynamic environments to suit their needs.

“Spatially, we wanted the spaces to relate to each other in a manner that feels like they flowed, rather than being constricted in a master-minded rigid grid. The curvatures in sight lines, walls and ceilings encouraged us to create a unique relationship between singular spaces and the whole body of William Ruthven,” expresses designer, Mun Rosewarne of Kneeler Design Architects.

The middle and senior school precincts were planned on the basis of a flowing nature of engagement and conversation in between. All spaces are transient to both students and teachers, featuring shared storage that can be personalised, creating a sense of co-ownership and responsibility. There is transparency from all fronts: between work areas, breakout zones and the boundaries between interior and exterior. The expansive volumes allow opportunities for teachers and students to collaborate in the learning process.

The buildings were a key catalyst in redefining the school’s existing relationship with the surrounding nature. Rather than being perceived as a standalone building, close collaborations with the landscape architect and arborist resulted in a distinct relationship with the architecture and the natural backdrop. The project serves to highlight the significant specimens of Australian nature, emphasising the marriage between nature and built form.

The building’s perimeters are aligned with easy access between the inside and outside, blurring the boundaries in between. The material palette consisted of raw materials such as timber, concrete and steel – speaking to a sense of comfort and warmth, as to reflect with the tones of the surrounding grounds. Acoustic treatments are tailored to each space with thermal and light control complementing the learning experience– ultimately transcending the individual into an educational haven.

“Our design lines dance around the dress, and this is reflected by the curvilinear footprint of the series of buildings on site. As much as we wanted to have the trees close to our buildings, it was better for the structural integrity of the building if there was a little distance. The trees are always there – a gentle presence seen through the framing windows of the school,” Mun adds.

Building an inclusive, welcoming and comfortable environment within a diverse community was at the forefront of the William Ruthven project. Kneeler Design Architects wanted to create an architectural narrative that integrated all elements of the exterior to elevate the routine of conversation and exchange of knowledge for present and future generations. Collaboration and connectivity are at the heart of the learning experience – William Ruthven Secondary School is artfully designed to build new relationships between teachers, students and the Australian landscape through a beautifully crafted built form.

Photography by Tatjana Plitt.

We think you’d like this other project by design firm Henning Larsen, French International School of Hong Kong. Join our digital community and get weekly inspiration straight to your inbox. 

INDESIGN is on instagram

Follow @indesignlive

The Indesign Collection

A searchable and comprehensive guide for specifying leading products and their suppliers

Indesign Our Partners

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!

Related Stories

While you were sleeping

The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed