Mandeville Centre

Loreto Toorak, Toorak, Australia / Architectus


The Mandeville Centre presents an elegant and highly accomplished exercise in architectural fundamentals. Its primary concerns appear to be about the formal determination of the building by its site, the tectonics of material expression and a particular approach to the architectural plan. It is an approach that reminds us of Robin Evans's early discussion of the flexibility of the matrix plan and its innate ability to facilitate a range of social interactions and modes of occupation. 

The building consists of a square plan arrangement extending over three levels, housing an administration and staff centre, a library and a Year 12 centre, with the library forming a double-storey atrium in the middle. The building's facades pull away from the square plan to create a dramatic atrium at the north end of the building and a narrow gallery space to the west of the library. Externally these facades are inflected to address a variety of site pressures. The north facade's faceted curvature responds to the setting of the main grounds and impressive Himalayan cedar that limits the building's northern tent. There is a tight passage between the historic chapel and the stern edge of the northern curved facade that is returned to enable a short face of the new building to directly address the old building. On the east façade an extensive steel pergola provides shaded outdoor space and visually mediates the slope. This structure terminates in a vertical screen wall that echoes the screen facade on the western elevation. The western edge of the building is tightly inflected by the curvature of Mandeville Crescent to the west. Here the curved steel screened facade provides solar protection and visual privacy and accentuates distant views from within the interior, captured by the inclined vertical fins. 

Planning of the main spaces relies on a pinwheel arrangement of classrooms organized around the central library, with the north and west facades forming double-height perimeter atrium and gallery spaces. One overlooks the main entry lobby and the other offers a secondary retreat space for the library. Gaps between the classrooms allow for the projection of space and views beyond the limits of the classroom-and-library enclosure. Despite what initially appears to be a rather simple arrangement, the resulting matrix of interconnected spaces provides for a surprising diversity of occupation and interaction. The double-height library is open and porous and the adjoining classrooms are equipped with large sliding doors that facilitate relationships with the adjoining spaces. There is a simplicity and directness about this approach. 

The planning has none of the figured or bespoke attributes of the vocabulary of new learning. However, there is enormous flexibility in the building's potential for varied approaches to interaction and occupation. The material selection for the interior continues this ethos of a simple and direct approach. White plaster, plywood panelling, concrete and substantial black-painted steel members -their mill finish still very evident -are juxtaposed against one another and allow us to directly experience their raw materiality.

- Extract from Shane Murray article Architecture Australia Jul/Aug 2016

Shane Murray is Foundation Professor of Architecture and Dean of the Faculty of Art and Design at Monash University.

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