Over recent decades, we have seen a transformation in the architecture of schools and educational learning spaces. With new technology, social advancement, community innovation and an exploding startup scene full of young entrepreneurs, it is not surprising that the demand for space to think, create and innovate begins within our schools.
The world, and the way in which we work, continues to evolve – so too must our learning environments. Dated classroom buildings are making way for cutting-edge STEM and visual art precincts in line with contemporary architecture and technology capabilities. These well-designed facilities within educational settings are helping to prepare a generation of students for a future workforce that is yet to be realised.
Penrhos College has invested almost $11 million in its Science and Innovation Centre, giving the College one of Western Australia’s most advanced STEM facilities for girls. The overarching objective of the project was to create an inspirational teaching and learning environment for STEM subjects and STEM-related areas by providing a versatile and flexible learning space that is resilient to future change and supportive of fast-evolving pedagogy.
Five years ago, Penrhos identified its Science facilities as its highest priority for upgrade, with parts of the existing Science building being almost 50 years old. Architects Zuideveld Marchant Hur (ZMH) were engaged to assist the College in defining both the strategic and functional requirements for the new Science spaces, building on a 20-year history of working with Penrhos, having previously designed the Creative Arts and Design Building, Staff rooms, and Boarding House. “We see our role with each project as custodians of the College’s campus vision” says Nathan Zuideveld of ZMH, “as we seek to thoughtfully introduce new contemporary inspirational learning spaces, materials and technologies, carefully crafted to respect the historical architectural fabric and rhythm of the campus”.
Opened in January this year, the Centre houses high-tech resources for the kind of hands-on, task-based projects which help support the development of critical thinking and the application of 21st century-based learning. One of the driving forces behind Penrhos’ significant investment was its commitment to delivering an inspirational learning environment, along with offering its students early insight into the opportunities and accessibility of further study and careers in areas that are typically dominated by males. “Young women of today can expect to have multiple careers, many of which do not even exist yet,” says Penrhos Principal Kalea Haran. “One thing we can be sure of is that STEM related skill sets are likely to feature in many of the careers our girls choose to pursue.”
The role that a single-sex education plays in encouraging girls to challenge the status quo and feel empowered to pursue their passions and their dreams cannot go unnoticed. Research shows that girls benefit from learning environments where there are no expectations of them to fulfil traditional gender stereotypes in the subjects they study, the activities they participate in or the careers they pursue.
Preparing students for a changing tomorrow is at the forefront of Penrhos’ mission, to give students the inspirational learning environment and open space they need to effectively adapt for whatever their future will present. “The new science learning spaces are flexible and versatile, full of natural light, providing opportunities to inspire, collaborate, experiment, build and learn” says Nathan Zuideveld. The girls are supported, and in turn support each other, in developing their problem-solving and collaboration skills, whilst also building resilience and self-confidence. Learning spaces such as these, Zuideveld adds “are adaptable for groups, workshops, informal and formal presentations and demonstration spaces, both inside and outside the building.” They are intentionally designed to support best practice in both curriculum and teaching, to support the exploration of meaningful ideas and access to innovative resources that can turn ideas into reality. This type of learning is active rather than passive, and constantly evolving to meet the needs of a new generation of students which is redefining the learning experience.
The three-story Science building at Penrhos incorporates all the traits of a real-life working environment, including multi-functional labs, break-out collaboration spaces encouraging small and large groups to congregate, an amphitheatre-style presentation space which supports live-streaming of lectures and distance learning, outdoor lab and a rooftop deck with views over Perth city. Principal Kalea Haran says “students today are part of a generation that churns out the kind of forward-thinking innovators and creatives who draw their best energy from collaboration and dynamic space”. This generation is known as the Alpha generation (born between 2010 and 2024) – a cohort which is growing up through recession, pandemic and technological revolution. The challenges these students face are real, complex and thought-provoking. “It’s not surprising that our students want to problem-solve, to be stimulated and participate in impactful real-world projects – they want to feel equipped to act decisively when faced with a challenge.”
Research shows that educational experiences that are contextual, active, social, and student-owned lead to deeper learning. And, as the world transforms, schools must consider new and advanced approaches to consistently inspire and support this cohort, in the best possible preparation for their real-life social and employment futures.