Schools are the heart of communities and play an enormous role in shaping not only places, but the lives of our future generations. When the communities are emerging, the role of the school is even more important, as these significant buildings define the character of the place, create a culture and bring people of diverse backgrounds together.

“Designing for education is a huge responsibility. The design of learning environments makes a significant contribution to learning experiences. These spaces and places can enable learners to thrive, to think, to excel, to be curious and influence a love of life-long learning.” – Jesse Judd, Director, ARM Architecture

The Schools are located on the Country of the Wathaurung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation. Images: ARM Architecture; Shannon McGrath

Appreciating the gravitas of this task, ARM embraced the opportunity to design and deliver a bundle of six schools for the Victorian School Building Authority. The new schools are located in Melbourne’s outer Western suburbs on the lands of the Wathaurung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, in new and rapidly growing suburbs with unique community profiles.

It was paramount that these schools provided excellent facilities with 21st century learning environments to support students’ differentiated learning requirements. Our aim was to promote a sense of positivity and pride with a distinct character that was meaningful to the place. The masterplans were carefully considered to create a strong civic presence with quality landscaped areas for seamless outdoor learning and play. We created a template in partnership with VSBA that was that was replicable, versatile, equitable and affordable – but could be nuanced and customized to fit each school’s site and the community it serves.

Images: ARM Architecture

Each school offers a variety of teaching and learning spaces, including places for group and individual learning, both collaborative and quiet. The study nooks have been a favourite of the students so far.

Images: ARM Architecture; Shannon McGrath.


As a primary place of learning, we saw an opportunity to embed educational opportunities into the physical design of the schools to continue to educate students, teachers and the community about our traditional landowners and First Nation Australians.

We collaborated with Waddawarrung elder and historian, Barry Gilson, to initiate a cultural consultation and co-creation approach. From the consultations, five design themes were defined with accompanying oral briefs to represent each individual school: Aquaculture, Astrology, Songlines, Agriculture and Habitat.

Images: Shannon McGrath.

Five First Nations artists were appointed to transform the themes into artworks that would shape the schools’ identities. These artworks have been translated into colour palettes and direct applications to the integral fabric of the school, in key elements such as facades, glazing details, ceiling and wall panels and carpet finishes, providing distinctive but inexpensive ways to distinguish the campuses.

Thornhill Park Primary School, Theme: Habitat – Management, Conservation, Artist: Paola Balla. Wemba Wemba & Gunditjmara

The cultural co-creation approach has been a huge success, as it has instilled a meaningful sense of place and identity into each campus that is unique to its context and community. The artworks and poetry of the oral brief were gifted to each school, allowing for further integration into their learning and identity. This approach not only enhances the built form but also leaves a lasting legacy of reconciliation, connection, and learning for future generations.

ARM Architecture is excited to deliver these new learning environments for the students and communities of Melbourne’s outer Western suburbs. With a focus on connection to place, inclusivity, and cultural appreciation, the 2023 New Schools Bundle is a transformative project for these new communities and generations to come.

Image: Ngarri Primary School, ARM Architecture

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