Branch Studio Architects’ has completed a two-pronged project at St Monica’s College, Epping, involving the renovation of the Pamela Coyne Library and an extension of the reading lounge and deck.
The project celebrates the traditions of the school and civic library through a series of key ideas, or ‘chapters’, that have been translated into architectural interventions. These architectural interventions were collectively composed and narrated as a single ‘story’.
Inspired by the entry to the ‘secret garden’, the new entry threshold is conceived as a singular volume and is the main entry to the library. It protrudes slightly into the existing school corridor.
Two large glass sliding doors open up the library to the courtyard where an existing internal corridor used to segregate the courtyard from the library completely. Now, the internal library spaces are engaged with the external courtyard, creating an indoor/outdoor reading area.
The new fit-out also includes a singular multi-purpose, multi-use, ‘Swiss army’ reception desk, catering for borrowing, audio-visual hot-desk, library catalogue and a seat.
Previously, an existing 1400mm change in levels between the lower and upper floors of the library was connected by two narrow stairs, but now it has been redefined as a series of platforms that promote impromptu spaces for discussion, meeting, photocopying, reading, viewing and traversing between the two levels of the library.
A new reading lounge punches through an existing brick wall on the first floor and extends out over a previously unused courtyard. The reading lounge is specifically orientated and configured to offer views towards the nearby Darebin creek green belt and wetlands.
The library contains a series of forum spaces for smaller, more intimate student reading, study groups and area for one-on-one teaching.
Flexible and translucent staff areas encourage teacher and student engagement. Through the use of a curtain divider, a more transparent and sometimes blurred visual and spatial barrier is created. Similarly, curtains are used as informal screening devises to create flexible teaching and study areas.
A ‘grand’ reading-room area for larger class and study groups, sits in contrast with a series of ‘nook’ areas where students can read alone.
A carefully chosen colour and material palette was selected to reflect and complement the courtyard artwork, engaging with the Australian outback, an important icon of the St Monica’s college philosophy.
Moments of the colour orange are used throughout in fabrics, paint finishes and bench tops to link back to the external courtyard artwork.
The courtyard artwork or mural was designed and painted by architect and designer Brad Wray with the help of his wife, Ellie Farrell.
Plywood has been used generously throughout for its durability and practicality. The embedded grain within the plywood ceiling, wall and joinery panels bare reflection with some of the forms and textures outside on the nearby grey gums.
Vertical natural timber battens, in collaboration with black stained plywood cladding, promote a visual connection with internal and external spaces.
The new extension is almost completely hidden from outside of school grounds. Situated amongst the tree canopies with only a small glimpse to be seen from a nearby walking track, the new building fabric merges with its surroundings.
The project was constructed in two parts – one used a traditional means of contract with a building contractor undertaking the extension part of the works; while the internal works or fit-out, which includes everything from all joinery to the Spanish steps, were undertaken by St Monica’s College’s own internal maintenance team.