Education comes in all forms — books, videos, audio recordings and interactive, hands-on, learning like that taking place at Cranbrook School in the Wolgan Valley, located about three hours north of Sydney, Australia. Students on this campus share experiences uncommon to mainstream education, mainly in the way they are relied upon to actively participate in the buildings’ and site’s upkeep. The idea is to educate students about a host of life skills such as gardening, homemaking, fire-building and even constructing in a hands-on ‘rituals of stewardship’ approach.
The campus is the result of a competition that asked designers to develop an architectural design for a new school in a rural area in the Greater Blue Mountains National Park. Andrew Burns Architecture submitted the winning project with an emphasis on the student experience. With the understanding there is no better teacher than experience, students are taught resilience through work. Along with the physical aspects of collecting wood and maintaining a fire in order to heat water for the heater, students learn about providing for others. Similarly, while they nurture the stewardship garden, they give back to the environmental remediation of the land.
The campus merges into the natural bluff with a crescent shape for the buildings’ footprint, while still providing the utilitarian aspects of a school. This design also creates efficient access for services across the buildings. In a press release, the architects explained, “The buildings are anchored to the Crescent by a series of chimneys, recalling the remnant chimneys from the neighbouring historic town of Newnes. The buildings rise up from the Crescent to take in the dramatic form of the escarpment, illuminated by easterly morning light.”
To further honor the connection with nature, the materials palette came mostly from natural sources such as wood and metal in an effort to make “the buildings…both shelter and pedagogical tools — devices to heighten the experience of landscape and environmental systems.”
Photography by Brett Boardman via Andrew Burns Architecture