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Hayball-designed vertical school opens its doors in Melbourne

Hayball-designed vertical school opens its doors in Melbourne


Construction is now complete on South Melbourne Primary School, Victoria’s first high-rise state school, with over 160 students now settled in for term one.

The Hayball-designed project – and recipient of the 2016 World Architecture Festival Awards Future Project of the Year award – offers a contemporary building with modern teaching principles at the core of its design.

Richard Leonard, director at Hayball said he was thrilled to see the firm’s design for the South Melbourne Primary School come to fruition in less than two years.


“This school is an exemplar of a contemporary 21st century learning environment, developed within the context of inner urban regeneration and focussing on the needs of today’s students and also the wider community,” said Leonard.

Located on a compact inner urban site of just over 0.5 hectares on Ferrars St South Melbourne, the school is positioned in the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area, which is growing by 3,000 residents per year. The six-level building will eventually house over 525 primary school students, 44 early learning students, and a number of community services and facilities integrated with the support from the City of Port Philip.


Leonard said the school offers a number of innovative, creative spaces that allow for active learning while taking advantage of the building’s five storeys.

“The staircase is a vertical piazza that acts as a meeting space, teaching space and in some parts, doubles up as auditorium seating,” said Leonard.

“This adaptable tiered seating area provides a functional zone where students can gather as a group for presentations, or individuals can read on their own. Features like this one emphasise how vertical schools can provide a fun and stimulating learning environment for students.”


In a shift from didactic teaching models and traditional classrooms, spaces are arranged around “learning communities” to facilitate both aged-based and stage-based learning groups.

The building layout is characterised by varied, student-centric spaces that connect internally and flow seamlessly between multiple indoor and outdoor areas at every level.


With the traditional schoolyard jettisoned, Leonard highlighted that ensuring there were sufficient outdoor play areas that encourage active learning was integral to the design.

“Above the indoor gym, we have an outdoor sports area so kids can play typical ball games they love – of course there’re nets surrounding the play area so balls don’t fly off the roof!

“There’s also a climbing play structure called ‘The Treehouse’ which allows vertical connection between the outdoor learning areas on levels two and three, promoting exercise and active play as well as connecting levels.

“All in all, we’ve turned the horizontal school yard into a vertical play centre, so kids are not missing out on the best parts of going to school, which for them is playing and being active with their friends.”


The building combines and integrates school educational facilities with a range of community amenities and services provided on site.

Social and recreational areas provided for the community include: a maternal and child health centre; community meeting rooms with access to a kitchen; a 44-place Early Learning Centre; and an expanded gymnasium equipped for competition-grade indoor sports.

“The school operates as a genuine community hub. Nowhere is this more apparent than at ground level where there are no fences separating the school from its surrounds,” said Leonard.


“With thousands of new residents flocking to the adjacent Fishermans Bend precinct each year – and space a scarcity in the inner-city – it was important to design facilities that can be used outside of school hours and have a greater use to the community.”

Photography: Dianna Snape


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