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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Ottley

Ep 16 - Fiona Young and the Solais Sandpit

In the second half of 2019 I got involved in a project that involved going into a school, with a group of architects and teachers, and working with a cohort of year 7 students. The idea was to work through a real world problem and have the students work to design a solution.

The school is Domremy College, a Catholic girls high school at Five Dock in Sydney. In 2018 Hayball Architects had been involved in the design of a space known as the ‘Solais Sandpit’, a prototype space to support and enhance the school’s vision for a new Year 7/8 centre and library to enable more student-centred learning. Originally a traditional classroom block, the Solais Sandpit transformed an existing building into an Innovative Learning Environment (ILE) housing a diverse range of purposeful learning settings to enable a range of pedagogies from direct instruction to more collaborative and independent learning activities.

The Solais Sandpit has been very well received by the school and the students and was also recognised with 2 awards at the 2019 Learning Environments Australia Australasian Regional Awards. However the acoustics of the space were not ideal and both the school and the architects recognised that further acoustic upgrades were required. The school's principal, Vivienne Awad, and one of Hayball's Studio Directors Fiona Young had the idea to get the students to work through and solve the problem themselves. This was carried out over three workshop sessions. The students had to work in groups, measuring the reverberation time in their space, calculating additional absorption required, designing the physical treatments and then presenting their designs to a judging panel.

Originally this episode was going to include interviews with some of the architects, teachers, the students and Vivienne Awad, the Principal. Unfortunately 2020 has turned into a pretty crazy year by any measure, especially for those involved in running a school, and I have not had the capacity to get back to the school for follow up interviews and so on. Having said that I did have the opportunity to sit down with Fiona Young at the end of last year and I wanted to bring that conversation to you.

Fiona is a Studio Director at Hayball Architects in Sydney with a particular passion for and interest in spaces for learning. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, researching pedagogy and learning space design to create dynamic environments that engage learners of today and tomorrow. She has also previously held a board position on the NSW chapter of Learning Environments Australasia. I have worked with Fiona and her team on a number of education projects and she understands these spaces as well as anyone. She is inquisitive and always asking why we are doing things a certain way and is there a way to this differently to get a better outcome.

You can find more on Fiona and her work at

You can find more on the Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change project at

More information on Vivienne Awad and Domremy College can be found at


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