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Brisbane Girls Grammar School Creative Learning Centre by m3architecture, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

An Escher-like central void form’s the heart of m3architecture’s Brisbane school. Photography by Jon Linkins

Driving along Brisbane’s Inner City Bypass, the new Creative Learning Centre (CLC) for Brisbane Girls Grammar School (BGGS) is an arresting sight. Not just because of its distinctive weighty form but also, with contrasting levity, due to its filigreed western elevation that warps and throbs with a mesmerising radial moiré effect. The CLC is described by architect Michael Banney of m3architecture as ‘a building of two halves’; a six-storey horizontal stack of orthogonal cellular teaching space, separated from a dramatic, vertically ordered veranda-like space by a five-storey void, all screened and sheltered by three-storey tapering fins.

Duality also exists in the building’s tectonics, merging two of Queensland’s main architectural traits: its solid structural base line in concrete, resonant with the heroics of the city’s 1970s new-brutalist South Bank (predominantly designed by Robin Gibson), overlaid with a more melodic skin of bronze anodised aluminium in a basket weave.

This skin shades interiors in a manner reminiscent of the timber fretwork applied to traditional stick-built Queensland homes. Set at shifting angles in front of a wall of vertical stripes, the basket weave activates the wall’s distinctive interference pattern when seen in motion - an optical illusion so convincing that some assume it is mechanically operated.

The building is not only testament to m3’s acknowledged architectural inventiveness, seen in the ornate split-brick facade of the Micro/Health Laboratory at the University of Queensland. It also demonstrates their opportunistic and ambitious desire to gain larger, non-domestic clients, initially only having been appointed by the school to carry out a strategic plan for its campus site. As the architects state: ‘The approach to the CLC was centred on making connections - those occurring within the building, within the school, and between the school and the city.’

Resolving the 60º geometric shift between the school’s existing buildings on Gregory Terrace and the site’s low-lying orthogonal corner plot, m3 has produced a building that is as dynamic in plan and section as it is in elevation. Likened by state architect Philip Follent to an Escher painting, the central atrium resolves complicated circulation problems identified in their strategic plan.

With a significant fall across the site, the ground level of the existing buildings cuts across the CLC at level four, where dining and staff rooms form a new social hub. Above this are two levels of teaching space for creative technology and creative arts, while descending through the void takes you through drama and music areas before reaching the lowest level, which accommodates three double-height rehearsal spaces. Reports from satisfied students confirm the building has significantly improved social dynamics within the school community, which is not only essential to student life, but also in attracting new students in an increasingly competitive educational market.

Architect m3architecture, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Structural and M&E Engineer Connell Mott MacDonald

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