Australian architects McBride Charles Ryan finished an addition to a junior boys school in the suburbs of Melbourne recently. It’s a bizarre thing, with a sharply gabled, windowless black facade that looks like a haunted house — fitting for a place full of the tortured souls of burgeoning adolescents.
Oh, architects and their metaphors. As best we can tell, though, this one wasn’t intentional; it was just meant to be fun and kinda’ whimsical. “[W]e wanted a building of the imagination,” the architects explain.
The Penleigh and Essendon Junior Boys School already populated an entire block of buildings in a residential area overrun by ornate, Federation-style homes (Australia’s equivalent of Edwardian architecture). Tapped to design a new school on the same street for students ages 10 to 12, McBride Charles Ryan decided to tip a hat to the neighborhood: They took the vaguely sinister silhouette of a Federation home and blew it up to cartoonish proportions, then extruded it.
But they didn’t stop there. They proceeded to give the rear a striped, low-slung roof, like a circus tent. And they made the center of the school resemble a Shinto Shrine. The building’s all over the place. So confusing! So… middle school!
Crazy as it seems, the architecture actually tackles one of the biggest challenges of designing a school: how to provide both natural light (so kids stay sane) and privacy (so kids don’t get distracted and weirdos don’t peek inside).
The vaulting silhouette takes care of that. Because the front’s totally devoid of windows, people on the opposite side of the street can’t stare in. Indoors, the complex shape of the building and roof affords a motley array of windows and skylights. Note how the light-filled classroom above has a line of clerestories that follows the curve of the ceiling. It’s a brilliant setup: too high for students to see out, and too angled for anyone to peer at the pimply angsty horror that lies within.
[Images by John Gollings courtesy of McBride Charles Ryan]