From a historic hall and post office to an award-winning educational facility, two heritage listed buildings in Port Melbourne, Victoria, have come together to form the impressive Albert Park College Year 9 Environmental Arts Hub campus.

Designed by Six Degrees Architects, Albert Park College is an adaptive reuse of a heritage Naval drill hall, built in 1911 and the Sandridge post and telegraph office, built in 1862.

“Our aim was to complement the original architecture,” explains Simon O’Brien, director of Six Degrees Architects.  “Our design highlights the qualities and intricate details of the historic buildings – robust construction and light and airy interiors.”

With an emphasis on showcasing the original features of both buildings, Big River Group’s Armourpanel timber finishes were utilised to enhance the original timber floors, create warmth and texture and to visually connect the campus.

“The new school campus is designed specifically for Year 9 students, the year they usually push the boundaries as they transition to adulthood,” says O’Brien. “The project required a material that is both hardwearing and durable, and would sit comfortably within the heritage context. Using the plasterboard default usually associated with government schools would have been an injustice to the history of the buildings and would have been damaged within weeks.”

The design adapts the existing mezzanine and lower floors into large teaching and learning spaces and retains the drill hall as a multipurpose performance and teaching space. In the spacious drill hall building, a stepped timber seating area made from Big River Group’s Blackbutt Armourpanel engineered plywood connects the two levels and gives a unique appreciation of the building volume; increasing the usefulness of the space for performance and large group activities.

O’Brien describes the post office building as being a unique piece of Victorian history that they worked carefully on to conserve.

“We stripped the post office to its original finishes and preserved it in an elegantly unfinished state,” he says. Utilising the cellular brick spaces to house administrative, meeting and music rehearsal rooms, Big River Armourpanel was selected for the ceilings and walls complementing the exposed brickwork and fitting in effortlessly with the building’s original features.

Big River Armourpanel is Australia’s strongest decorative plywood and has been designed, tested and approved to tolerate extremes of heat and humidity, and to resist shrinkage. Its tolerance of changes in ambient temperature and its toughness make it ideal as flooring, ceiling or wall linings in hard-wearing areas.

New external built forms are separated from the heritage structures and clad in subtle and recessive materials to remain in keeping with the original layout. The new lift tower and stairs are located to the rear of the building to activate the laneway and minimise visual impact on the main heritage facades.

Overall, approximately 300 sheets of Big River’s Armourpanel made from native Australian timber was used for the floors, ceilings, walls and joinery. O’Brien looked to Big River Group’s plywood for the internal finishes for its long life, durability and greater warmth and appearance value. “Although a complex project, involving multiple stakeholder groups, the project has delivered another life to two heritage buildings and is now a fabulous asset to both the College and the local community.”

The Albert Park College Environmental Arts Hub was recognised with two awards at the recent 2017 Victorian Architecture Awards.

For more information visit