MLC’s Nicholas Learning Centre, Melbourne, reflects contemporary educational design

Methodist Ladies College’s new building by Mcildowie Partners is a learning space for middle years, featuring light, open spaces, and a terrace garden for education outdoors.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Jun 03, 2020

Methodist Ladies College’s (MLC) Nicholas Learning Centre, designed by Mcildowie Partners in collaboration with various consultants, officially opened late last year in Australia. Designed to create an energising learning environment for the girls in classes of the Years 7 and 8, the learning facility is the first project emerging from the 2015 College Masterplan - a vision for the 10-year development of the Kew campus of the Methodist Ladies College, in Melbourne's inner east area.

The MCL Nicholas Learning Centre in Melbourne was officially opened in November 2019 | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
The MLC Nicholas Learning Centre in Melbourne was officially opened in November 2019 Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

Arising from the demolition of two cramped wings of the previous Nicholas building, the new structure is situated between MLC’s traditional primary and secondary schools. The Nicholas Learning Centre brings the new building together as against the previously separated facilities for the older girls to create a school within a school. These have been placed alongside a sprawling new landscape, which becomes the heart of the campus, known as the Principal’s Terrace.

The Principal’s Terrace outdoor area is the heart of the new building | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
The Principal’s Terrace outdoor area is the heart of the new building Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

“Working in close collaboration with the school’s academic staff, the design of the learning spaces has been driven by the concept to keep in tandem with the learning community’s aims to balance access into the heart of the campus with wellbeing and best practice learning,” says John Mcildowie, associate partner at Mcildowie Partners, an architectural and interior design practice in Melbourne.

The perforated exterior of the building connects with the outdoors | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
The perforated exterior of the building connects with the outdoors Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The first look of the building showcases the exterior façade, which rises from a plinth of grey bluestone towards a light and open roof garden, with sight lines in all directions. The eastern walls of MLC’s Nicholas Learning Centre have been carefully and deliberately curved, softly scribed along the hard edge of the sporting oval. The handcrafted brick ‘skin’ in subtle shades and refreshing tones creates a sense of warmth and connectivity between the formal and informal campus context. From within, the curved skin is punctuated by a series of fenestrations and framing views, generating an open connection beyond the college premises, and eventually reflecting the theme of MLC - ‘educating world-ready women’.

The curved façade and the green roof design of the Nicholas Learning Centre in Melbourne | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
The curved façade and the green roof design of the Nicholas Learning Centre in Melbourne Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

“To strengthen the balance between learning and leisure, the building has been broken down into a series of clusters, five learning spaces around a shared breakout space nurturing students in the transition from junior to secondary schools, this builds strong bonds between peers and staff through a homeroom-based wellbeing model, strengthening a sense of identity and ownership over the spaces,” adds John Mcildowie. This new educational building in Melbourne’s eastern zone, designed by Mcildowie Partners, provides four levels of learning spaces, a level each for Years 7 and 8. At the building’s base lies a formal administrative floor that welcomes parents and visitors. A shared innovative learning zone at the top of the building flows effortlessly into a creatively designed roof-garden space for outdoor learning.

 The rooftop terrace, which opens opportunities for outdoor learning | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
The rooftop terrace, which opens opportunities for outdoor learning Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

“The diversion of Grove Avenue into the heart of the campus not only becomes the formational gesture of the building but the key to unlocking the new landscaped heart as a destination on campus,” shares John Mcildowie.

  • The flow diagram of the building | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
    The flow diagram of the building Image Credit: Courtesy of Mcildowie Partners
  • The green roof creates a sense of openness and brings natural light into the adjoining spaces | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
    The green roof creates a sense of openness and brings natural light into the adjoining spaces Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The western edge of the new building facing ‘Grove Avenue’ has been softened as a remnant of the evolution of the campus from a suburban street, and opened up to provide a gracious welcome to the natural flow of students and visitors into the Principal’s Terrace. Intended to become the central gathering place, the terrace overlooked by the Centre’s verandahs provides shade and a probing invitation to instigate and encourage learning in the open.

  • Plan – Level 2 | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
    Plan – Level 2 Image Credit: Courtesy of Mcildowie Partners
  • Plan – Level 3 | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
    Plan – Level 3 Image Credit: Courtesy of Mcildowie Partners
  • The learning spaces or home-rooms | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
    The learning spaces or home-rooms Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The façade on the western edge has been predominantly glazed to take advantage of the openness of the garden to flood the learning spaces with natural light. A series of coloured triangular aluminium battens have been used to emphasise the horizontal gesture of the balcony, such that the building engages intimately with the human scale of the terrace beyond. Each batten also rotates, such that students can participate in the architecture, creating a sense of playfulness.

The curved façade of the building | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
The curved façade of the building Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The deep overhanging balcony as well as the natural stack ventilation system provide fresh air to the learning spaces and ensure that comfortable temperatures are maintained throughout the day. A series of display units in each learning space inform staff and students about suitable conditions for natural ventilation, which can be embraced as a learning tool.

  • The landscaped area of the outdoors | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
    The landscaped area of the outdoors Image Credit: Peter Bennets
  • Flexible spaces for practice learning | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
    Flexible spaces for practice learning Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

“Playfulness throughout the design encourages the girls to enter the new environment with a sense of wonder as well as purpose,” says John Mcildowie. Colours have been used to bring spaces together, and to provide a contrast between floor levels. At the micro level, intimate nooks and flexible spaces open up for private reflection and research, contiguous with the broader learning environment.

Modulating open-ended spaces for practice learning | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
Modulating open-ended spaces for practice learning Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The design supports a variety of learning settings through agile furniture and provides porosity between spaces through oversized glass sliding doors and operable walls. This would enable students to access multiple areas and shift seamlessly between different modes of learning; from independent learning to collaborative group work, or from more directed learning to reflection. “By encouraging students to choose where and how they learn, the design aims to empower students to be the authors of their own learning,” adds John Mcildowie.

  • Plan – Roof Plan | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners| STIRworld
    Plan – Roof Plan Image Credit: Courtesy of Mcildowie Partners
  • Learning spaces or home-rooms on the upper level | MLC Nicholas Learning Centre by Mcildowie Partners | STIRworld
    Learning spaces or home-rooms on the upper level Image Credit: Peter Bennetts

The centre puts forth a collection of ambitious, student-centred spaces to improve learning outcomes and teacher practices. The institutional building sits at the heart of a growing field, delivering innovative architecture through the lens of innovative learning.

Project Details

Name: MLC’s Nicholas Learning Centre
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Architects: Mclldowie Partners
Project size: 4500 sqm
Completion: 2019
Building levels: 4
Quantity Surveyor: Prowse
Accessibility Consultant: Before Compliance
Acoustic Engineer: Marshall Day Acoustic Engineers
Structural Engineer & Services Consultant: Arup
Landscape Architect: Taylor Cullity Lethlean
Building Surveyor: Design Guide

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