Cranbrook's Senior School Masterplan

Cranbrook's plans for the Hordern Precinct. [Image subject to consultation and approval.]
Cranbrook's plans for the Hordern Precinct. [Image subject to consultation and approval.]

In 2017, Cranbrook announced an ambitious masterplan to transform the Senior School campus. Phase 1 of the plan is the full renovation of the Senior School building, while Phase 2 involves the proposed construction of a new multi-purpose building on the site of the War Memorial Hall as well as a new carpark and aquatic centre underneath Hordern Oval. The below article, describing the thinking behind these plans, appeared in the November 2017 edition of  Schola Nostra.


If you've ever spent time walking or sitting under a tree on a sunny day, you've experienced komorebi – the Japanese word for sunlight filtering through leaves. It's this serene scene that Headmaster Nicholas Sampson uses to describe the bright, collective educational spaces he envisages for Cranbrook students.

With no English equivalent, the word embodies the almost meditative first goal in Sampson's masterplan for the school – that the boys have access to greenery, blue sky and light.

Light-filled classrooms will be in stark contrast to what he describes as the "black box" teaching spaces of the past. To this end, one of the key objectives in the Masterplan, now in motion, is physically to rebuild and renew Cranbrook's campus to ensure that classrooms are bright and pleasant places, conducive to learning.

"Beauty transmits itself to young people in the environmental sense and we want a calm, clear, wonderful teaching environment filled with natural light and resources overlooking the harbour to be our keynote, our background", he says.

Secondly, Sampson wants to better prepare boys for tertiary-style learning by introducing a more university style of tuition in Years 11 and 12. In his mind, this will help build a stronger and more effective bridge to the next phase of their education.

Thirdly, it's about core business. Lastly, and most importantly, Sampson's ideas for the school's physical growth are based around the concept that education is about connection – highlighting the importance of the school's architecture and design in complementing scholastic goals. "Great education forces you to connect", he says passionately. "We want to echo this in the architecture we're creating."


Architecture inspiring excellence

In addition to aiding collaborative learning, improved physical spaces will allow for fluid movement between classes, and support an emphasis on basic skill acquisition, he believes. The vision for the school will also see a greater emphasis on educational principle and rigour, while at the same time it will embrace modern styles of teaching and working.

A major challenge for the expensive rebuilding project, he's at pains to stress, is to keep the school flourishing and functioning smoothly during the process, which has two distinct steps.


The nuts and bolts of Phase One

Phase One is happening now, and will offer useful lessons for phase two, which will begin in 2018, the school's centenary year.

The first stage involves the entire renovation of the Senior School block, with students and staff vacating it floor by floor, and the moving of classes and timetables. This phase has three main goals, Sampson says.

First, it will be a celebration of what he refers to as "one of the most gloriously positioned school sites on the planet", with its great location and heritage buildings. "We have a compulsion and responsibility to honour the past, and we're lucky there's real beauty at the heart of the School, and in turn of our founding mission."

Secondly, it will stimulate educational conversations. The boys will have specific House spaces, each with an identity, which will help promote cross-generational conversations among students. Within these groupings, Sampson already sees a level of kindness that he thinks is "pretty unusual in a single sex, certainly boys', school".

Thirdly, phase one is all about supporting teachers in their facilities – providing state-of-the-art departmental offices in addition to classrooms.


Phase Two in the centenary year

Phase Two will focus on two buildings at the end of their natural lives – the War Memorial Hall and Mansfield Block. In Sampson's view, they occupy the most beautiful sites in the school, overlooking Hordern Oval and Rose Bay, but are inefficiently designed for teaching. By combining them into a new, single building, Sampson hopes to create a space that will become the "great intellectual heart of the school".

"It's a fabulous opportunity to mark our centenary in a tangible, spiritual and symbolic way", he says. "I'm confident it will be one of the most remarkable school facilities ever built."

The lowest, underground floor will house a multi-purpose black-box theatre where the whole school can assemble. It will also be used as a lecture theatre and performance space for music and drama. Above will be a modern iteration of a library – fluid and dynamic – that Sampson hopes will be open 48 weeks of the year. Here, teaching spaces will merge with dining facilities. It will be a space where boys can drop in and have a coffee with their tutors, have breakfast after an early morning weights session, or eat an evening meal after study.

Above this will be 17 classrooms and, for the first time, a permanent chapel for spiritual reflection. The top level will connect with Cranbrook's heritage precinct and reflective green space. Added to this will be more parking and, if Cranbrook can raise the money, an aquatic complex. Sampson is keen to stress that the building will carry the iconography of the War Memorial Hall. "This remarkable facility will represent renewal, not reinvention", he says. "It will give us heart, it will give us respect for our environment, and it will give our boys and our staff a great deal of opportunity."


A complete renewal

So what will the Senior School look like in five to 10 years? Sampson likes to think it will have a new curriculum, pedagogic approach and strengthened pastoral system supported by stunning architecture and state-of-the-art spaces. It will have teachers accustomed to sharing ideas, approaches and practices. Moreover, it will be true to itself while being a vibrant, forward-looking, constructive and energetic community.

Sampson is infused with optimism. "The world these youngsters are going into can often be coloured as dark, but they're very bright individuals. They're going to take the world on, and they're going to make a really positive impact", he says confidently.

And if you think about komorebi – the warm sunlight filtering down onto the boys as they go through their education at Cranbrook – it's easy to picture the students as the illuminated individuals that Sampson strives for them to be.