The Victorian Space Science Education Centre (VSSEC) is one of three major Innovation Projects, an initiative to refocus the teaching of science. Using imagination as a primary source of inspiration and insight, and the new field of space science to draw these together, immersive scenario-based learning provides a richness and depth of experience impossible in traditional schools. An exploration of sciences interdisciplinary nature extends learning to include decision-making, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving, achieved through simulated missions to outer space and the planets.
The brief was to create a showcase for innovation and creativity, reflecting the educational principles and symbolising the dynamism and inspiration of space exploration. Memorable learning environments were required, supported by sophisticated audiovisual, data and communications infrastructure, on a typically modest educational budget. The large and complex client and user group worked with the architect-coordinated team, with ongoing collaboration from NASA, the European Space Agency and RMIT, Victoria and Swinburne universities. The site, at the Strathmore Secondary College, is on reactive soils from the old bed of the adjacent Moonee Ponds Creek, with major roads and a railway along its other boundaries.
The design of the VSSEC responds to the brief, context and spirit of the commission boldly and expressively, with a vibrant richness that belies its financial economy. It uses the energies of the site throwing up dynamic arcs in sympathy with the curving freeways, flyovers and railway to form great curved walls that embrace the site, but also fulfil the need for internal shelter and acoustic protection. Although contrasting with the orthogonal school buildings, the twisting exterior connects with, and expands, their vocabulary in its forms, materials, colours and textures. With an old eucalypt as a key marker in the journey to the entrance, a new gathering and transition space has been created within the campus.
The approach and entry sequence are part of a narrative, linking the physical journey to the stars with an emotional and spiritual passage, consolidated in the educational experiences. Leaving behind the familiar world, the path weaves through a darkened corridor into the swirl of the main building: like the spiralling arms of a birthing nebula, the buildings walls reach out into the landscape as they also draw inward, converging about a central eye. This double-height orientation space brings both clarity and mystery to the heart of the building: in deep indigo, its great scale and subtle lighting alludes to forces and spaces beyond our physical bodies limits. Around it, in clear jewel-like colours, are the main learning spaces, linked to it through physical transparency and to each other via virtual technologies. Open circulation zones create a sociable human hive of activity pulsing through the building, linking the VR Theatre, Research Laboratory, Mission Control and Space Lab. These spaces, where theatre and fantasy support scientific endeavour through enchantment and inspiration, need to remain separate from the everyday so the building is experienced internally, as a world apart.