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Narrow site throws up some challenges

Narrow site throws up some challenges
The Mother Bernard Towers Science Centre includes eight labs, an atrium and breakout and storage space.

When St Mary’s College approached RCG with an urgent need for further science teaching spaces there were a number of challenges, says RCG managing director John Long.

“We had to come up with an architectural solution for a narrow space behind the Paul Keane Gymnasium along the eastern site boundary.

“As the brief developed the number of labs required meant the building footprint needed to extend into the space behind a swimming pool.

“The space was very difficult to access in relation to the rest of the school and there was also a need for a solid boundary wall on one side and a one story change of level in the existing ground levels,” explains John.

It was a 95m long linear footprint and creating a midpoint atrium entry and connection integrated the north and south ends of the site, with storage and technical support spaces located centrally behind this.

John says that the narrow site meant that most light and air had to come from above the roof plane.  The northern roof had to be crafted carefully to create visual amenity as well as functional utility.

It was overlooked by the gymnasium’s classrooms and the upper level of the atrium.  Designed with a cluster of triangular shaped skylights created a visually interesting roofscape, he says.

The science centre was given its own distinct character with a modern metal and glass aesthetic. “This contrasts with and compliments the more classical elements of the adjacent gymnasium,” explains John.

“The space between the existing buildings and science facilities more sinuous forms, wraps and weaves into the existing street network of the campus with touches of soft landscaping at regular intervals.”

The 1700qsm Mother Bernard Towers Science Centre includes eight labs, an atrium, a breakout space, storage, technical spaces, faculty offices and generous linking corridors.

The project was constructed by Robert Cunningham Construction. Company commercial manager Stuart Mills says that while on paper the building appeared to be easy to construct the reality was far different.

“The access to the site was from one end with the building being 95 metres long an d 14 metres wide sitting on the boundary on one side and three metres from the adjoining buildings on the other side. There was not much room to move. In addition to this, the roof fascia and gutters had six different changes in direction which lead to a difficult design to achieve the required look,” he explains.


The first step was getting all the services in the ground prior to foundations being poured as once the foundations were in there was no access for machinery.

As the project progressed Robert Cunningham Construction had to ensure that all materials were delivered for future use as once the project moved down the narrow passageway, which was the building site access to the end of the building, this passageway ceased to exist.

Narrow site throws up some challenges

The complicated fascia and gutters were designed and resolved early with the structural design and then a few modifications on site produced the look that the architect was looking for resulting in a successful outcome that saw the project win a silver award in the education category at the 2018 Commercial Project Awards.

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