When Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School, or PEGS, commissioned McBride Charles Ryan to design a new structure to house 11th and 12th year students, the local firm chose a footprint in the shape of an infinity symbol for a number of reasons, both symbolic and logistic. The Infinity Centre, as the new building would become known, would draw senior students from PEGS’s all-girls college and its all-boys grammar school into a single co-educational environment, poised on the edge of a reserve in a quiet northwestern Melbourne suburb.
So, besides the infinite possibilities of learning, the shape evokes the merging of the two schools into a single 8,000-square-metre edifice. More practically, the form creates two interior cloisters, sheltering these zones on an otherwise windswept site, and provides the building interior with improved views, ventilation, and daylight penetration.
At the building’s centre, the library forms the structure’s functional hub and the spiritual heart of the school. Like a racetrack, the hallways seamlessly and endlessly loop back to the library. These hallways are clad in panels of recycled timber stained in bold shades of yellow, red, and green, colour-coded to delineate different areas of study.
The structure’s exterior borrows from the configuration of a citadel; the resolute exterior walls, clad in a pattern of glazed grey and black brick, protect two inner courtyard gardens, accessible through elegant wood-paneled arches.
While the school’s inspiration may have been rooted in symbolism and history, the result is a dynamic and thoroughly contemporary environment that students can feel comfortable calling their own.