Portland Bay School

Victorian School Design Awards 2018: Best Combined School or Special (Developmental) School – Finalist

Portland Bay School is a government special developmental school for students between the ages of 5 and 18 years. The project involves the relocation of the school to new, purpose-built facilities on a site that is part of the Budj Bim area in western Victoria. From the project’s inception, the school highlighted the importance of celebrating the local indigenous culture and incorporating it in the design process. The design therefore drew on the spatial relationships present in the historic Gunditjmara settlements—protective C-shaped living areas, interconnected and clustered around communal use spaces—to inform the concept of the communal courtyard enveloped and protected by learning communities.

The gabled roof forms and simple palette of tumbled brick, metal sheet cladding and subdued colours help to create an educational environment that is non-threatening and familiar in the rural residential area. In response to the cold and damp Portland climate, strategically located solid brick walls capture winter sun and operate as a thermal mass heat sink. Colour, texture, light and sound were carefully considered in all internal spaces to help minimise overstimulation for students with sensory sensitivities. The learning spaces provided vary in size and shape across the campus—some learning studios manifest a sense of enclosure, whilst others encourage communal learning and connect openly to adjacent collaboration spaces. Less rigid boundaries and more fluid general teaching spaces encourage integration and regular combining of general and specialist classes.