TANDEM’s imaginative new library instills wonder, fosters independent learning, and brings a greater civic presence to a primary school with a unique education vision.
TANDEM is Making things better | Making better things at Parktone Primary School Library:
Parktone Primary, a state school in Melbourne’s bayside southeast, boasts an ambitious education program. TANDEM Design Studio was engaged by the Victorian School Building Authority in February 2021 to reinvigorate the school’s offering and civic profile with the addition of an inspired new library.
TANDEM is delivering a high-impact new facility to engage young learners and position Parktone Primary as a forward-looking learning hub.
Working with education planner Scott Alterator of I=D+E and the school community, TANDEM undertook a number of information-gathering workshops that identified key needs and formed the basis of the client brief.
“It’s crucial to learn from people who will actually be using the space.” says Priscilla Finn, an associate at TANDEM. “What came out of these conversations was a desire for internal spaces that have a strong connection to the outdoors.”
The array of proactive teaching and learning methods at Parktone Primary gave rise to particular spatial requirements. Classes are structured according to Thornburg’s Flexible Learning Spaces, which divides rooms into nature-inspired zones for specific purposes: caves for solo time, watering holes for group activities, a campfire for community convergence, a swamp for meetings with an expert, and plains for independent learning. This unique framework allows students a degree of choice and autonomy over their mode of learning.
“The aim of having these different spaces is enabling the kids to recognise what type of environment they learn best in, it’s more self-directed,” says Morgan Doty of TANDEM Studio. “What’s great about it is that it’s non-judgemental, and not focussed on academic achievement alone.”
“Staff were doing a great job adapting existing facilities to these methods but were excited to have a new space designed to support their pedagogy, where they could test learning models and observe other teachers at work. So the library is an innovation hub for staff as well as the students,” says Priscilla. “We wanted to do something very different from traditional teaching spaces, that could adapt as the school evolves.”
Thornburg’s use of ecological terminology in the naming of learning spaces points to a biophilic approach, and this affinity for the natural world extends throughout the library. Composed of dynamic angles, its external form references geometric shapes found in nature as a deliberate move away from conventional box-like classrooms. The building will be softened by colourful native exterior planting, in a project respectful of Aboriginal heritage.
“The concept is based on the art of storytelling and the magic of children’s literature. So we looked at predominant themes from popular books and wove them into the design,” says Priscilla.
Inside, a generous open-plan environment is alive with colour and natural light. Interiors are defined by a fresh material palette of practical, durable surfaces in neutral tones, accented by warm gold and yellow, to evoke the glow of a campfire. The heart of the space is its central conversation pit; a plush, comfortable sunken lounge where children can sprawl for storytelling or social gatherings, fulfilling the function of Thornburg’s campfire. Overhead, an enchanted ceiling contains feature lighting which will shift and emulate the changing sky and a clever acoustic treatment.
“It’s a space designed for reading aloud, which links back to the oral-based traditions of many Indigenous cultures,” says Morgan.
Unlike the silent libraries of previous generations, this contemporary learning hub is made for conversation and connection. To ensure effective noise management between various spaces in the communal building, acoustic treatment is strategically integrated throughout.
The space is characterised by storybook motifs interpreted through creatively expressed portals, and changing floor finishes forming pathways and journeys in the building. Positioned along a gallery on the bricked western wall, reading nooks act as Thornburg’s caves. These partially enclosed, yet easily supervisable spaces enable children to enjoy solitary learning while maintaining teachers’ line of sight.
TANDEM’s thoughtfully detailed, cost-effective design for the new library at Parktone Primary provides an ideal environment for staff and students, where innovative learning models are supported and independent thinking is nurtured.