John Mayfield was a renowned educational leader with a particular passion for the physical environment. Over his lifetime he brought together educators, architects and technological tools with a view to encouraging the design of innovative learning environments conducive to exceptional educational outcomes.

This year’s entries for the award in his name presented as part of the South Australian Architecture Awards reflect Mayfield’s ongoing legacy on many levels.

Matthews Architects’ redesign of the University of Adelaide Acoustics & Vibrations Laboratory, for example, demystifies an otherwise abstruse engineering faculty building by allowing passers-by to see inside the previously hidden interior, at the same time introducing light and views of the outside world to those inside. Installation of full-length windows and the playful renaming of the three acoustic test chambers help make the science of acoustics more visible, accessible and engaging to all.

University of Adelaide Acoustics & Vibrations Lab by Matthews Architects. Photos: Aaron Citti

Matthews’ reworking of the Johnson Laboratories similarly embraces the university’s goal of developing a “no-borders” learning environment, punching in penetrations to allow light and visibility into the corridors and chemistry labs. Here, pipelines and ducts are crafted to create interest and attract attention from the inside and out, while quality student hubs and shared informal common spaces encourage a mix of public and private uses.

University of Adelaide Johnson Laboratories by Matthews Architects. Photos: Aaron Citti

When Blackfriars Priory engaged Swanbury Penglase to provide a tertiary-style science education environment for its senior cohort, integrated technology played a key role. High-quality finishes, the use of timber and colour, and large expanses of glass enhance the visibility of the interior environment of the new Aquinas Centre, while diverse connected spaces aim to foster self-directed study and student/teacher collaboration.

An aspiration to dissolve the boundaries between formal and informal learning, and to create inspirational and bespoke study spaces supported by state-of-the-art technology is also integral to award entries from the Wilderness School Learning Commons by COX Architects and the Breda Byrne Wing upgrade at Loreto College by MPH Architects.

Blackfriars Priory School Aquinas Centre by Swanbury Penglase. Photo: Sam Noonan

Wilderness School Learning Commons by COX Architecture. Photos: Tom Roschi

The well-established concept of juxtaposing modern and historic elements in the adaptive reuse of an existing space permeates the specialist learning centre award entries from the Walford Design and Technology Centre by Matthews Architects and the St Thomas School Ecology and STEAM Centre by Grieve Gillett Andersen.

At Walford, Baltic-pine timber floorboards, brass chandeliers, glazed-tile fireplaces, stained-glass windows and pressed-metal ceilings are retained and contrasted with shiny stainless-steel and white plaster, with selected walls removed in favour of flow and flexibility.

At St Thomas School, the character shopfronts, exposed concrete, brickwork and trusses of an industrial past ­are left untouched, with modest contemporary interventions supporting a flexible and well-integrated multi-purpose centre for ecology, technology, art and dance.

Walford Design and Technology Centre by Matthews Architects. Photo: Aaron Citti

St Thomas School Ecology and STEAM Centreby Grieve Gillett Andersen. Photos: Sam Noonan

Connectivity between indoor and outdoor activity, along with a commitment to environmental sustainability and community wellbeing, underpin the design concepts for the final two entries in the 2021 Dr John Mayfield Award.

Built Design Architects’ Mangiri Centre at Navigator College in Port Lincoln, and Swanbury Penglase’s McAuley Community School at Hove both embrace publicly-accessible external facilities that flow seamlessly into light-filled and resource-rich spaces within the built environment. The intent here is to create engaged and inclusive communities of inquiry, creativity and physical activity that are well integrated into their broader social and environmental context.

Mangiri by Built Design Architects. Photos: Alicia Whittle Possum Eyes Photography

McAuley Community School by Swanbury Penglase. Photo: Sam Noonan

This article is part of an InReview series in which Stephanie Johnston takes a look at the key contenders in each category of the 2021 South Australian Architecture Awards ahead of the announcement of the winners on June 10. Read her article on contenders in the commercial category here.

Stephanie is an urban planner and freelance writer based between the city and Port Willunga.

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.