Radical review of the old tin shed

ARCHITECTS often refer to previous schemes when contemplating a new design. Architect Paul Morgan drew inspiration from his own house, a modest sustainable house at Cape Schanck. Low slung, couched in its bushland setting, the emphasis was on sustainability.

The Gippsland TAFE Learning Centre, or Gipps TAFE as it's referred to, is spread across more than 1600 square metres and is considerably larger than Morgan's house. But like the house, it connects with the elements, both aesthetically and environmentally. ''It's the first five-star green-star building for this type of building [referred to as Education Design rating version one],'' says Morgan, whose task to achieve this rating was hindered by the location, on the edge of Leongatha. ''It's not serviced by a public transport network like you'd find in the city.''

Conscious of its location on what was once farming land, one of the starting points for Morgan's design was the simple tin shed. The Gipps TAFE is fully clad in steel, but instead of rectilinear walls and a barn door, this building, federally funded, appears like origami, stretching to either attract the natural light or channel the prevailing northerly winds for important cross-ventilation. ''Our clients wanted a building that would encourage a higher quality of learning, as well as one that had a strong focus on sustainability,'' says Morgan.

The northern facade of the building features a series of acrylic awnings that increase in both scale and distance. These awnings not only diffuse light, but also take on a different appearance for drivers passing by. ''There's a 100-kilometre speed sign adjacent to the building,'' says Morgan. ''We wanted the design to visually connect to drivers as well as students.''

Gipps TAFE, designed for a maximum of 500 students (including students engaged in long-distance learning), includes programs in hospitality, health education, computer training, hair and beauty, and scores of other courses. And with such a broad range of programs, flexible spaces were required. The restaurant, Wildflower, located at the front of the building, is also used by the public on select days. So while the bar is functional, it was also designed for training students. ''We didn't want it to be just a utilitarian space,'' says Morgan, pointing out the sculptured plywood bar. Likewise, the commercial kitchen had to be comparable to other professional establishments.

The flexible learning centre, adjacent to reception, was created for those developing computer skills. There are concealed sliding doors in corridors that allow this space to be extended for a variety of uses, including functions. Unlike computer labs or classrooms (at the Gipps TAFE there are eight classrooms) in most city-based learning environments, there is a strong connection to the outdoors. ''People who live in the country tend to appreciate the views, whether over farmland or sheds,'' says Morgan.

The Gippsland TAFE Learning Centre.

The Gippsland TAFE Learning Centre. Photo: Peter Bennetts

As well as expansive picture windows, Morgan included generous wraparound verandahs, not dissimilar to the country homestead. The verandah along the northern facade is almost seven metres wide, in part large enough for small groups of students to either take class or simply relax between classes. Complete with deep eaves and angular built-in concrete benches, there's a blurring between the indoor and outdoor spaces. ''It's quite a complex design and many of the sustainable features aren't obvious,'' says Morgan, pointing out a small screen inside the entrance. 'This tells you how the building is performing in terms of energy use at any one time.''