WDSS Stage 2 Build
Article from ‘The Local Project’
Dynamic Pedagogical Endeavours – Wangaratta District Specialist School by Sibling Architecture - Words by Millie Thwaites.
Sibling Architecture has designed a new building for Wangaratta District Specialist School. Conceived as part of a larger master plan for the multi-modal school for students with clinically diagnosed intellectual and associated disabilities, the building encompasses classrooms, outdoor breakout spaces, sensory rooms and gardens.
"The main design driver for the project was the engagement with sensory design.” - Amelia Borg, Sibling Co-Director. She explains that gaining an understanding of the students’ varied sensory processing difficulties heavily informed the practice’s architectural response. As a result, the building features an array of dynamic spaces, some which heighten the sensory experience and others that control it.
For kids who are hypersensitive to stimuli, there are outdoor breakout spaces and sensory gardens with hard and soft landscaping elements to enhance the learning environment. These areas “complement the classrooms and provide a space where over stimulated students can move to self-regulate”. On the other hand, spaces with increased visual and physical cues cater to students who are hyposensitive and may “need to touch textures, love jumping, bumping and crashing into things [and] enjoy the feeling of tight pressure on their bodies.”
Sibling also created a sensory map of the building, which overlays the visual, tactile, vestibular, olfactory, auditory and gustatory experiences throughout. It cleverly indicates where students’ differing senses might be stimulated most, helping to guide the architectural experience and increase usability. It also helps to identify where kids might thrive or feel at ease – an imperative asset for the school, whose pedagogic philosophy centres around creating an environment that is “happy, challenging, supportive and non-threatening.”
In developing the nuanced spatial requirements, Sibling worked closely with allied health professionals, which Amelia says was “not only about fulfilling practical needs but about producing dignified design outcomes.” As such, alongside sensory design elements, there’s integrated specialist equipment and flexible classroom layouts to accommodate different learning settings and applied lessons like cooking, wellbeing and life skills.
This new building not only complements the school’s enduring pedagogical endeavours but serves as a thought-provoking example of how to do more and design better for school-aged kids with differing needs. As Sibling has proved here, the outcome can be dignified and compelling.