Architects branch out with flyover at school

The Flyover Gallery at Caroline Chisholm College. Photo: Peter Clarke
The Flyover Gallery at Caroline Chisholm College. Photo: Peter Clarke

Branch Studio Architects has become the "in-house" architect for Caroline Chisholm College, in Braybrook.

There's the latest award-winning project, the Flyover Gallery, refurbishment of classrooms and a new canteen on its "whiteboard".

Rather than being handed a long list of requirements in the school's brief for the Flyover, a link that bridges the science and art wings, the words were succinct.

They were, "'Make it look good' and 'the students are getting wet – enclose it [the walkway] somehow'," said architect Brad Wray, director of Branch Studio Architects, who worked closely with the practice's co-director, architect Nick Russo.

The bridge joining the arts and sciences classrooms, built in the 1970s, had been added in the 1980s. The steel roof, conceived in three separate spans, brought in water from above.

The rudimentary bridge, hovering on steel poles, was virtually open to the elements and in need of an update, particularly as it's the main thoroughfare bridging the two buildings.

"The bridge really became a starting point in the project. It led to updating the classrooms," Wray said.

Some architects would have simply enclosed the link with glass walls either side, perhaps added a steel roof and come up with a few flashy details.

Studio Branch Architects was keen to go a little further.

The project coincided with Wray winning a Think Brick award – for his proposed design for a bridge over the Tullamarine Freeway – that included a trip for two to Venice.

"It was a great opportunity to visit as many Venetian bridges as possible, initially gravitating to key bridges such as the Bridge of Sighs and the Doge's Palace.

"Unlike most bridges, these landmark crossings [over the city's canals] include spaces with porticos, where often the ruling classes enjoyed meeting or simply reflecting on life, looking at the water below," Wray said.

Given these examples, the architects thought they could insert a program into the link at Chisholm College, rather than just connecting two buildings.

Back in the Melbourne studio, the ideas for the new flyover started to crystallise. Partially inspired by the work of artist Christopher Wool, Branch Studio Architects used a series of perforated COR-TEN steel panels that concertina across the 22-metre-long-span on both sides of the link.

On one side of the link is an elongated window. And on the other is a slot window, inspired by the framed window views on Venetian bridges.

To ensure that natural light entered this unusual elongated space, the architects inserted a skylight with a fritted pattern.

"It's a fairly robust environment. Installing clear glass would have shown the dirt," Wray said.

As with the delicate fretwork found in the Venetian bridges, the perforated steel creates a series of filigree patterns on the pavement below.

Inside, the bridge is slightly cave-like, with angular plywood walls and glass-fronted display cabinets embedded within the walls.

"We wanted to create a synergy between the science and art faculties," said Wray, who sees the outcome as comparable to cave paintings in our own heritage.

Complete with a built-in seat that extends the entire gamut of the bridge, this link acts as a means of access, as well as a teaching space in its own right (but not when the bell rings and students become mobilised).

"This space is now used as a gallery space, but it's also used for informal classes and meetings," Wray said.

If there's no room on the bridge, then students can gravitate to the amphitheatre-like space in the grounds, designed by landscape architect Karl Russo from Orchard Design.

Clearly this bridge is not the Doge's Palace or the Bridge of Sighs. But like these drawcards, the flyover allows students to contemplate their next stage of life.

This story Architects branch out with flyover at school first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.