Wahroonga Preparatory School

By Derek Raithby, G. Gordon Fuller & Associates (GGF Architects)

61 Coonanbarra Road Wahroonga

By: GGF Architects

Wahroonga Preparatory School, Photograph by Blake Brockdorff of ArchiShot

How does the project respond to its context, contribute to the public domain for example street or neighbourhood?

Wahroonga Preparatory School is nestled between the St Johns Uniting Church Group, a highly significant State Heritage listed group of buildings in the inter-war Gothic and Federation styles. The heritage buildings, all original and well maintained, screen the school building along both street frontages.

The project involved adaptively reusing a school building of varying levels, shapes and material finishes into a cohesive aesthetic. This was achieved by simplifying the forms and sheathing the expanded building with pre-finished panels and windows. This design was developed to encompass the young children that inhabit the space while echoing the stain-glass windows of the heritage significant church. A glimpse of the multi-coloured panels from the street draws interest and creates a new level of appeal and curiosity in the buildings.

What problems did you have to solve?

Due to the site’s heritage significance and prominence in the lives of the local Uniting Church congregation, it was imperative that the new school building responded to its context and historical relationship with the Church. Emphasis was placed on enriching the environment through solving the presentation of the school building. The result was a contemporary interpretation of the stain-glass windows of the Church, achieved by the selection of multi-coloured panels that enveloped the building. Since the façade included a complex panel layout, integration of window openings also had to be carefully planned.

What was the contribution of others, including engineers, landscape architects, artists, builders and other specialists to the outcome?

Planning and consultation for the project was broad and comprehensive. In the beginning the students’, parents’ and teachers’ ideas were discussed and consolidated. Input was also sought from members of the congregation, whose relationship with the school has existed since its conception in 1926. The client also elected several key members of the school and church community to form a committee responsible for contributing suggestions to the design and function of the building.

Along with contributions from local authorities, heritage planners, interpretation advisors and the wider community, the team of architects at GGF worked together to form a collaborative design approach.

Members of the project team include GGF Architects, Paul Reidy (client representative), Eclipse Consulting Engineers, Glendinning Minto & Associates, Martens & Associates, Crowley Consulting, NBRS+Partners and Fitzgerald Building Certifiers. The builder for the project was Admire Build Pty Ltd.

How would you describe the value of design in relation to the cost of the project?

The bold design was considered crucial to the success of the project, an approach which was reinforced by the support of the Heritage Council of NSW. The resulting form ultimately provides long term value because of the adaptive reuse of an existing school building. A passive approach to this project would not have enriched the educational environment in the same way, nor would it have impacted the heritage significance of the group of buildings. It must also be considered that the school’s financial input to the project is significant because of the resulting contribution to the culture and aesthetics of the area.


What are some important sustainability aspects of the project?

The aim of reusing and adapting the existing school building has several environmental benefits including less need for demolition, recycling of building materials together with minimisation of transportation for construction processes. The school also elected to install a solar electric system reducing its reliance on coal-fired electricity.

Emphasis was also placed on creating the right indoor environment through a passive design approach. This encompassed natural lighting and ventilation, thermal modelling and acoustic properties. Sensors were utilised to automate electrical functions such as lighting and air conditioning. Installed fixtures, fittings and school equipment were chosen for their energy efficiency and current environmental building principles were observed.

What do you consider to be the benefits of the project for the client, users and the community?

The development has had a significant impact on the local community, with improved facilities for the school, church and local organisations. The building raises heritage awareness and has bolstered the significance of the St John group of buildings, as well as increasing the cultural, financial and heritage value of the site. The longevity of the building is assured because of it’s cultural and aesthetic contribution to the value of the surrounding environment, children and wider community. A reduced environmental and financial impact was achieved by recycling the buildings resources and developing an environmentally responsible design approach, demonstrating both the school and church’s commitment to sustainability and stewardship.