Preshil School

Site Overview

site name:
The Margaret Lyttle Memorial School
former/original/variant name:
Preshil School
architect:
Kevin Borland
date of commission:
1962
date of completion:
1970
address:
395 Barkers Rd, Kew, VIC
classification/typology:
Education (EDU)
protection status:
VicHeritage, NT
awards:
Bronze Medal: 1972
fiche editor:
Lani Fender, 2006
fiche download:
Docomomo Australia Fiche (pdf)

Preshil School Fiche extract (2003)

The school was established in the 1930s by Margaret J R Lyttle, and still follows the educational philosophies and practices established by her in opposition to the traditional teaching methods of the time. The task-oriented educational philosophy at Preshil where students and teachers worked together to solve problems was pivotal to Borland’s design thinking.(1)

heritage place
On 4 October 2004, the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) classified Preshil Junior School for architectural, historic and social reasons at a State level. Following the Classification, the National Trust nominated Preshil Junior School for inclusion onto the Victorian Heritage Register on 8 October 2004.

Summary of Development

commission brief:
In 1960 Kevin Borland, whose children attended the school, was asked to design the school hall. The commission was pivotal in Borland’s architectural development, consolidating his design philosophy as an informal, client based architecture.6

design brief:
Preshil, and in particular those buildings designed by Borland, continue a relationship began in the early 20th century between experimental teaching techniques, psychoanalysis and experimental architecture. A belief that learning environments are integral to the development of a child was expressed first in Europe in schools such as A. S Neill’s Summerhill School and at Dartington Hall where a number of well-known modern architects worked. In Australia the Koornong School at Warrandyte (1939 – 1947) continued these ideas, in 1939 commissioning local architect Best Overend to design the school’s vernacular-style timber buildings of which only the headmaster’s house survives. Borland was familiar with the Koornong School and his Preshil buildings resemble those at Koornong in their light timber construction, elevation and random placement around the site. This tradition in the design of progressive schools was continued in the 1970s by Borland’s earlier associate, Daryl Jackson with Evan Walker in their design for St Pauls School, Baxter in 1979. Here Preshil provided the model for the informal placement of the buildings, the unsophisticated post and beam construction and the active involvement of the students and staff in the design process.7 The pupils were closely involved in the design process which can be attributed jointly to Borland’s inaugural use of participatory design methods and the active encouragement of the inspirational headmistress Margaret Lyttle.

building/construction:
– 1962 (c) Kevin Borland Hall
– 1964 (c) classroom for pre-school children
– 1965 (c) The ‘tree house’
– 1969 (c) The multi-purpose ‘tutorial’ classrooms – 1972 (c) The ‘home rooms’

original situation or character of site:
Admiring former pupils of Margaret J R Lyttle urged her to continue teaching their children after her departure from another school. She agreed, accepting the children into her home in Barkers Road, Kew. The newcomers added to the already crowded house, where Margaret was struggling to rear her four young nieces and nephews. By 1933, ‘It became obvious that we had a school within the family’, remembers today’s Margaret E Lyttle (niece of the founder of Preshil). The family chose the name ‘Preshil’ in memory of an heroic ancestor, John Brown, who lived at Preshil (Priesthill), in Scotland, dying there in 1685.

Margaret recalls the school’s early days as happy if chaotic: ‘Our dining room was a sub-primary room and an old tram car nearby in the garden was a library for the primary aged children.’ All of this was quite illegal and worrying for the neighbours, explained a visiting school inspector. Nonetheless he approved the registration of the school, declaring himself impressed with its program. Preshil was already attracting teachers who were ahead of their time. In 1933 Frances Derham, a now legendary pioneer of art teaching, began to explore new ways to encourage children to express themselves through art. In 1937 the growing primary school moved to its present site, Arlington, further along Barkers Road.

Description of building

Preshil Junior School is Australia’s longest surviving progressive school. The school was established in the 1930s by Margaret J R Lyttle, and still follows the educational philosophies and practices established by her in opposition to the traditional teaching methods of the time. The school moved to the present site in 1937, and in 1960 Kevin Borland, whose children attended the school, was asked to design the school hall. The pupils were closely involved in the design process. Over the following decade he and others from his office designed five more buildings, which were laid out in an informal and non-hierarchical way on the site, integrating the existing early 1930s stucco cottage, original plantings and new gardens. The buildings were designed to accommodate the school’s approach to active learning, embodied in the child-scaled, multi- purpose buildings. In 1972 Borland was awarded an RAIA Victorian chapter Bronze medal for the school buildings. In 2003 the school was included as one of the thirty-seven best projects in Victoria to have been awarded RAIA medals.

The Preshil buildings designed or modified by Kevin Borland and his office from 1962 and 1972 are experimental in design, having irregular forms and angles created with complex, precise joinery that gives a variety of internal and external spaces. The precise form of each building is counteracted by the use of raw timber posts and beams. The rooms are lit via clerestory windows and walls of sliding glass doors and the internal spaces can be divided by folding doors to allow for different uses. There are many small spaces attached to the main spaces, and elevated platforms which the children can reach by ladders. Borland said of the Preshil buildings, ‘One of the characteristics of Preshil is the infinite variety of cubby houses that the kids build themselves, so I was concerned with the development of the type of building that was scaled to kids, with all the informality they would like. The earliest of the buildings is the school hall constructed in 1962, known as Kevin Borland Hall. It has an innovative octagonal plan with an octagonal roof offset against the alignment of the walls with stage along one side and an intricate timber ceiling with skylights. It was designed for multi-purpose use.

New curtains for the stage are painted by the students every two years and the school holds the collection of these from initial construction of the hall. In 1964 Borland designed a classroom for pre-school children, added to the east end of the original house and incorporating a bedroom and sitting room of the house. The ‘tree house’ constructed in 1965 consists of two elevated classrooms separated by a timber deck through which an Italian Cyprus grows. The space beneath is for woodwork classes and sandpit. In 1969 the original 1939 rectangular classroom was modified

by Borland, with Philip Cohen as assistant architect, to create multi-purpose ‘tutorial’ classrooms that contain a variety of spaces and provide private and community areas with a verandah along the north side. The ‘home rooms’ were constructed in 1972 with John Kenny as assistant architect, an irregularly planned timber building with a variety of spaces on different levels and a mezzanine retreat for the children.

In 1975 Bernard Brown, an associate of Borland, designed a second floor addition to the rear of the original house, initially a staff room but subsequently converted to the school library. Again this has an irregular form with multiple levels, constructed of brick, raw timber and glass and offers a view across the site. Other structures at Preshil include ‘the Nursery’ in the original garage on the site that has been extended and with windows along the western side; the play equipment and climbing frames, some of which date to the 1960s; cubby houses that are constantly constructed by the children. A number of original plantings exist on the site including 2 Italian Cyprus (Cupressus semprirens), one of which grows through the deck of the ‘Tree House’ and a large number of pepper trees. Other plantings are principally Eucalypts, from the 1960s and to the present, including Argyle Apple (Eucalyptus cinerea) and Lemon-Scented Gums (Eucalyptus citriodora).

Preshil, and in particular those buildings designed by Borland, continue a relationship began in the early 20th century between experimental teaching techniques, psychoanalysis and experimental architecture. A belief that learning environments are integral to the development of a child was expressed first in Europe in schools such as A. S Neill’s Summerhill School and at Dartington Hall wherea number of well-known modern architects worked. In Australia the Koornong School at Warrandyte (1939 – 1947) continued these ideas, in 1939 commissioning local architect Best Overend to design the school’s vernacular-style timber buildings of which only the headmaster’s house survives. Borland was familiar with the Koornong School and his Preshil buildings resemble those at Koornong in their light timber construction, elevation and random placement around the site. This tradition in the design of progressive schools was continued in the 1970s by Borland’s earlier associate, Daryl Jackson with Evan Walker in their design for St Pauls School, Baxter in 1979. Here Preshil provided the model for the informal placement of the buildings, the unsophisticated post and beam construction and the active involvement of the students and staff in the design process.

Notes
(1) “A Guide to Melbourne Architecture” Philip Goad, Watermark Press, 1999, p187

AUSTRALIAN REVIEW-Preshil by Hannah Lewi (PDF)


{google_map}395 Barkers Rd, Kew{/google_map}


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