Yes, we swear: this warm and sculpted space is actually a secondary school

Melbourne – Shocker number one: this elegant space is not the headquarters of whatever fancy company you have in mind. Instead, it’s the administrative section of secondary school in a Melbourne suburb.

Shocker number two: the continuous effect of that brown and elegant visual curve was actually achieved using inexpensive cardboard tubes, at about €1.5 each.

The team at Branch Studio Architects basically upended every stereotype and expectation the client, the Caroline Chisholm College, had in mind. But you can’t really blame the school administration for that low bar, since the area looked quite different before: the 275-sq-m setup was a dark maze of small office spaces, with a poorly lit meeting room and the blue-walls-and-cream-venetian-blinds look that came courtesy of the 1970s. ‘This was highly inefficient and not susceptible to any form of good or flexible working environment,’ explained architect Brad Wray. On top of that, ‘it provided little to no humanistic interaction for its users.’

To solve this, the Branch team decided to go full humanistic, by re-imagining the space as an Italian piazza. It made sense: the main goal was to reduce visual barriers between staff and students, and provide the latter with an area to have a comfortable chat with the former. So, just like a piazza, this project is made up of a public forum and a clock tower.

[The previous space] provided little to no humanistic interaction for its users

To create the public forum, the Branch architects moved the working spaces to ancillary positions around a central meeting point – the clock tower. Then, to solve the inefficiency of the previous office layout, they provided a diversity of rooms that could function as individual offices, shared offices, meeting areas and even hot-desk environments.

As the matter of darkness was also an issue, they devised a series of curved partitions that would let natural light run its course. To keep with the piazza narrative, the internal elements were inspired in the porticos and formal archways used in 18th-century classical and neoclassical architecture.

And that’s how the Caroline Chisholm Catholic College ended up with an indoors marvel, the Piazza dell’Ufficio. That elegant-sounding name, by the way, literally translates to the ‘plaza of the office.’ Leave it to the Aussies to grandly extend the aesthetic possibilities of the humble cardboard tube and then have the self-deprecating sense of humour to be tongue-in-cheek about it.

branchstudioarchitects.com

Location 204 Churchill Avenue, Braybrook, Victoria 3019

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