The rebuilding of a heritage-listed classroom for five‐year-old students at the Preshil Primary campus in Kew, Victoria has been commended in this year’s UNESCO Asia‐Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Now in its 20th anniversary year, the UNESCO awards program recognises exemplary efforts to restore or conserve structures, places and properties of heritage value, and distinguishes the best conservation practices throughout the Asia‐Pacific region. The jury citation for Preshil’s Honourable Mention stated:
The 5s Classroom restoration has resulted in safeguarding a Modernist building while honouring the original pedagogical traditions espoused by this pioneering school. The rigorous, evidence- based approach to conservation is reflected in the great efforts made to find suitable materials and techniques to preserve the aesthetic and spatial qualities of the original design. Through lively engagement with the school community and alumni, as well as present-day students, the project reflects and sustains the spirit of place associated with Preshil The Margaret Lyttle Memorial School.
Preshil is Australia’s oldest continuously operating progressive and independent school for young children and is included in the Victorian Heritage Register for its cultural heritage significance to the people of Victoria.
The school is also the nation’s earliest example of a learning environment where classrooms have been architecturally designed in collaboration with young children. The 5s classroom, opened in 1964, is one of six experimentally engineered works designed by the school’s architect Kevin Borland (1926‐2000) and structural engineer Bill Irwin (1917‐2000). In 1972, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects awarded the school its Victorian Bronze Medal.
Preshil independently financed the classroom’s replication and allied costs associated with its statutory obligations under the Victorian State Government Heritage Act. The work involved the replacement of all fabric, retaining only a select number of original components to achieve dimensional accuracy.
The 5s classroom is the first valuable work of modern architecture to be systematically replicated and measured in Australia. Gina Levenspiel, the project’s architectural preservator, said the aim was to optimise the replica’s life cycle and durability. “All of our decisions were rigorously controlled by evidence‐based processes which are fully documented and archived to support the second cycle of replication which is anticipated in 2118.”
In her response to the UNESCO award, Preshil Principal Marilyn Smith emphasised that the architectural values of the classroom, originally opened in 1964, had been tested by 55 cycles of young children. “Our job was to enable 21st century learners to ask different questions of the same building. We made the decision to replicate the original classroom designed by Kevin Borland with the students of the day and transmit its full pedagogical potential to future generations of students and educationalists, rather than continue with reactive maintenance of the old building.”
Accepting the award on behalf of Preshil on Monday 14 October 2019 was Dato’ Dr Lim Huat Bee, Honorary Consul of the Australian Consulate in Penang. The award will be relayed back to the school in coming weeks and formally presented at a celebration with Preshil students and the school community.