North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Based on bold and innovative designs, sustainability, and contemporary architecture techniques, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer’s architectural team has created Wenona Athenaeum School, an innovative girls’ school located on a highly confined and valuable site in North Sydney, the third largest CBD in Australia.
The project has been awarded a 2021 International Architecture Award by The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.
Wenona has a “global outlook united with a caring culture,” its contemporary and engaged position leads to impressive results, not just academically.
The new Athenaeum is a union of forward-looking design with more traditional values of quality, durability, and economy, creating a range of spaces to foster the collegiate spirit of the school and the individual aims of each of its students.
Wenona’s brief was to envisage a building that is “amazing in a humble way,” not monumental, but discretely celebrating its innovative and unique program.
The Athenaeum is a physical demonstration of an academic, physical, and peer culture, led by professional teaching and joyful learning, to empower young women in all aspects of life.
The building’s program is complex, requiring two swimming pools, one with clearance for water polo, a multi-use fitness zone, a flexible suite of science laboratories and workshops, staff rooms, and a collaborative study space for senior students.
Adjacent buildings were required to be adapted to provide support spaces and a focal food technology kitchen.
The building embodies innovation to meet project-specific aims, not for its own sake, where the culture of Wenona is the inspiration.
A new approach to education is developing across the world — one harnessing interaction, both physical and digital, one that values informal collaboration and the contribution of all.
Dynamic places of cultural mobility, hybridity, urbanity, and conviviality happen where students, teachers, and the wider community gather and interact.
The Athenaeum successfully integrates several existing facilities, setting a language and a pattern for the unification of campus. A movement system based on linear pathways, clear sightlines, and direct level changes fosters the experience of connection across the school.
The building is organized around a five-level open space, a dramatic amphitheater that becomes not just a place for circulation, but a place where the engaged spirit of education is celebrated, a place where the student body can collect, and where small groups can meet informally.
A university-like senior campus is effectively connected to existing and future school buildings, whilst facilities used by the whole school have their own access and identity.
The building has been designed with an expressive and innovative structure and layout reflecting the brief and the limitations of the site, the requirements of which include spanning over the swimming pools at the lower level, a width that tightly accommodated the pools, and a defined height limit.
To reduce the loads on the portals that span the pools, the upper three levels are suspended from roof-level beams, whilst the portals themselves create an impressive hall for water sports.
The upper levels are set back in a series of curves to maximize daylight into the pools and the levels above, whilst the thin supporting tension struts allow free movement and views throughout the upper levels.
A low-irritant pool water treatment and careful control of thermal transfers minimizes the impact of the warm, moist air and reduces energy needs with heat pump transfers from the upper-level air conditioning.
The new building has achieved a 50% reduction in energy use compared to the old pool building, to be demolished for a new Middle School.
Solar PVCs supply energy, whilst roof water is collected for flushing and filtering backwash.
The building celebrates its technological innovations with a series of interactive connections enabling the students to monitor temperature, energy, and structural movements, making the Athenaeum an “educational artifact” in itself.
Throughout the design process, the documentation of the building was achieved by LOD 300-400 BIM modeling, enabling the coordination of the interacting complex systems.
Certified sustainable hardwood is used carefully to define circulation and gathering areas.
High-tensile steel with advanced intumescent coatings makes up the structural hangers, which have achieved almost zero deflection.
Highly effective double glazing is used throughout.
Concrete has been designed with sustainable fly ash to reduce embodied energy.
Long-term sustainability is not confined to active ESD measures but includes a durable, low-cost envelope, a structure that provides for adaptive reuse with flexible spaces and services, and an envelope that is durable and thermally efficient.
Not just a measure of sustainability, Indoor Environmental Quality encompasses all of the issues that make a place good to be in, engendering wellbeing, positive interaction, and valued experiences, with low VIOC coatings, maximum outside air, and controlled lighting joining the abundant views from most spaces.
Project: Wenona Athenaeum School
Architects: Tonkin Zulaikha Greer
Design Team: Peter Tonkin, Matilda Watson, Todd Solman, Roger O’Sullivan, Wolfgang Ripberger, Jeremy Hughes, Sujata Bajracharya, Anton Van den Berg, Charlotte Evans, Mona Parvaresh, Alison Osborne, Kevin Lee, Kate Palmer, Lauren Sideris, Ellie Gutman, Alessandro Belgiorno-Nettis, Jasmine Richardson, Simon Dunne, Mark Leong, and Jenna Row
Client: Wenona School Ltd.
General Contractor: Kane Construction
Photographer: Brett Boardman Photography