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2019 Australian Interior Design Awards: Interior Design Impact

Jury comment

This award represents exceptional and transformative outcomes made possible by the optimism of rigorous design thinking, genuine collaboration and a spirit of generosity. This year the jury unanimously agreed the project that most strongly represents the spirit of this award is Our Lady of the Assumption school in North Strathfield, Sydney.

Initially, the physical transformation is obvious – a dark, sombre 1970s Telstra training centre has been converted into an open, light, energetic primary school. Through planning and the removal of the majority of existing walls, the interior is visually and physically connected to its suburban environment, activating the streetscape and contributing positively to the wider community. However, the transformation goes deeper. The exploration of interior planning, materials, movement and the subsequent impact on pedagogy and wellbeing is evident and has resulted in positive benefits to students, staff, parents and the community.

Evidence of the design’s impact was demonstrated at multiple levels during the jury’s visit, for example:

– The students consistently referred to the interiors as “our” space. There was a palpable sense of belonging and ownership that facilitated learning and interaction.

– The design of the spaces, combined with teaching methods, encourages students to take risks in a safe environment and provides opportunities to “learn all day.”

– Students with special needs are supported in subtle yet effective ways, minimizing differentiation and allowing them to remain connected to their peers during classes. Acoustically comfortable “caves” provide students with respite, while maintaining a connection to the main learning spaces.

– Rigorous investigations of materials and sustainability systems, including CLT, natural timber and the glazing suites, went beyond research into energy efficiency and included consideration of the impacts on students’ behaviours and wellness.

This project is a very worthy recipient of the Interior Design Impact Award. It demonstrates an approach to genuine collaboration and experimentation and is an exemplar of what can be achieved when a client and design team work together. This relationship has been ongoing over multiple stages of design processes, resulting in a uniquely strong understanding of the impact of the design on students, staff and the broader school network.

Design statement

Our Lady of the Assumption is a new primary school that reuses a 1970 three-storey former Telstra training centre. The design addresses a range of challenges to create an inspirational educational space. It is the first stage of transforming the site to a K-6 school for 420 students.

The objective for this project was to transform a dark, rundown, 1970s brutalist concrete building into a welcoming and innovative new primary school learning environment. Due to the dark and cellular spaces within the building it had primarily been used as storage for the nearby Performing Arts College that previously owned it. All external and internal walls on the ground floor were demolished and the facade replaced with fully glazed windows and large bifold doors. Central learning spaces run alongside a raised timber platform called the ‘bridge’. The result: an open, light-filled interior with visual connections between learning spaces, the streetscape, and school courtyard.

The Australian Interior Design Awards are presented by the Design Institute of Australia and Artichoke magazine. For more images of this project, see the Australian Interior Design Awards gallery.

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