School infrastructure is a community asset as much as it is an educational resource. So the issue of long term value and cultural legacy is critical. Northcote High School’s Performing Arts and VCE Centre is a counter to the lightweight shed that has become synonymous with delivering within strict state education budgets. It strives for lasting legacy via a formally and materially enduring building, grounded in the architectural heritage of its campus context. With an economy of language, it prioritises clarity of interior organisation, purity of form and material richness to promote the vitality and success of the school’s music and theatrical performance program. It also supports the broader community and forms an urban marker for Northcote, for generations to come. This new school is distinctly old school.
It’s functional and spatial organisation is structured by two elements: a red brick box, which forms the exterior envelope, and within this, loosely centred, a black brick box which holds the performance space. The remaining program occupies the space between the two revolving around the black box: music and performing arts including rehearsal areas on the ground and VCE teaching and learning spaces above.
The inner box is figured as the heart of the building. Glazed black bricks render it as valuable and an embodiment of the school’s commitment to the flourishing of the performing arts and music programs. Its glossy surface serves as a backdrop to the foyer reflecting the surrounding people and activities and heightening the drama of opening nights and the like. The performance space provides flexibility, with flat floors and retractable seating allowing it to be reconfigured to suit different modes.
The outer box forms a conversation with the site. A bastion, of sorts it bookends the south east corner of the campus and protects its precious contents from a tough roadside location. Red bricks similar in colour, type and mortar forge links with its most immediate campus neighbours. There is clear hierarchy of façades with the secondary ones direct and articulated according to interior functional need and solar modulation. By contrast the magnificent arched entry of the primary facade, combined with the arrival forecourt, welcomes visitors and users. It offers civic generosity to the broader neighbourhood while forging strong links with the red brick heritage and open space network of the school. While certainly gesturing to Roy’s NGV, its more immediate reference is as a broader echo of a narrower arch that forms the school’s main entry portal in the original heritage building.