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Mary Place, All Hallows’ School

Mary Place, All Hallows’ School


Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones.

This article originally appeared in AR145 – available now through newsstands and digitally through Zinio.

Architect: Wilson Architects
Location: Brisbane, Australia

The future of school design is tiered, urban and engaged.

High-rise schools are a fact of life in dense Asian city centres and the concept is starting to take hold here. Just this year, the NSW Government revealed Grimshaw and BVN’s design of the state’s first high-rise school, while St George’s Anglican Grammar School in Perth moved into a five-storey office building.

All Hallows’ School is a metropolitan Catholic girls’ school, positioned at the southern fringe of Fortitude Valley, where the city meets Brisbane River. Across the road stands a cluster of skyscrapers, including the Soleil building – Brisbane’s tallest, before being surpassed by the Infinity Tower in 2013.

In such proximity to this vertiginous scale, Wilson Architects has formed a forward-thinking place to support learning within a city context, projecting the shape of things to come in Australian education.

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Great schools and universities are defined by the strength and expertise of their communities, together with their ability to provide students with flexible and interesting ways to learn. This environment has created new challenges that are driving school design today.

In a rapidly changing world, education institutions must respond to the way technology is impacting the design of learning spaces. Content is no longer solely driving design; rather, a diverse range of teaching practices (pedagogies) require highly adaptable, flexible and agile spaces. Older schools can struggle to meet this change, with classrooms too small, inadequate natural light, Heritage building restrictions or adhoc growth resulting in fragmentation of the institution and disconnected facilities, weakening the sense of community.

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All Hallows’ School is both blessed with its heritage, but also challenged. The school is one of the oldest in Brisbane. It has undergone incremental and continual growth over time, as the city around it has also drastically changed. What was once the front door to Ivory Street is now a tunnel and what was the backside of the school, now fronts the city. Mary Place, a new five-storey general classroom building had to negotiate a complex Heritage context and difficult site constraints, while improving overall connectivity into the campus, including new student access from Kemp Place. The rear campus entry has been transformed to reflect All Hallows’ School’s contemporary teaching values, while respecting the scale and historic legacy of the school.


The existing heritage school buildings have façades that respond to its hierarchical relationship. The south flank that addressed the old school is ornate, the western flank that addressed the convent is pared back and the northern façade, the back door, is purely pragmatic. Mary Place sets up an overt dialogue within this Heritage context, with various Heritage façade details referenced and reinterpreted. The new envelope responds to each of its elevations with a rotational tectonic, as if part of each façade has been pulled around and connected to the next.

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Taking reference from the garden and building screens used in the past by the nuns to deal with privacy, security and shade, a number of new elements play with transparency to present mass, scale, texture or acuity. The street composition is rescaled from a five-storey building into a two-storey object, floating over a two-storey high planted screen. The western façade responds to the scale of the 1940 University Wing and composes an elevation of lightly suspended aluminum screening, similar to the famous Queensland Thurlow verandah blind, which references the adjacent 1892 convent’s heavily screened façade.

Where Mary Place engages directly with the rear façade of the 1940 University Wing, the view of the original façade is theatrically edited. Rather than reveal the whole of this mundane but important façade, the building instead frames only a fragment with a proscenium arch, placing it as a backdrop to the daily play of student interaction in the courtyard and the verandah galleries of Mary Place. The arch’s head conceals the old roof while reflecting winter sun. The sheltered courtyard brings daylight deep into the plan and reinvigorates a previously neglected part of the school.

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The planning of the building recognises both teacher-led and student-directed learning spaces. The ground floor enables students to break out of class or gather over recess in a place that encourages interaction and informal learning. This floor also supports functions and events, where the classrooms can be interconnected and seamlessly flow into the outdoor room.

Natural light

The traditional classroom, where the teacher stands at one end of  the room, has been reimagined. The two end walls are floor-to-ceiling glass and the long walls are covered in whiteboards for both teachers and students to explore and present content. Lockers have been moved away from the corridor, which frees up circulation, but more importantly enables higher levels of natural light and ventilation into the classroom.

This article originally appeared in AR145 – available now through newsstands and digitally through Zinio.


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