Cabra Dominican College: New Music Centre

  • Cabra Music Centre photographer: Sam Noonan
  • Cabra Music Centre photographer: Sam Noonan
  • Cabra Music Centre photographer: Sam Noonan

Cabra Music Centre is an exercise in restraint. Presented with an ambitious brief, modest budget, and a stakeholder community apprehensive about the process, we were determined to exceed expectations. Instead of a grand gesture our approach is nuanced: a gable form nests the building into its crowded heritage environment; an elevated walkway threads the Centre into the heart of the school; and an overarching desire to award students the very best learning environment drives the design intent.

The site is restricted to the east and south by existing buildings and an egress path to the west which dictated the footprint of the building. The state heritage-listed Convent building to the north, facing the new building, stands proud within the courtyard. Paying respect to the historical significance of this building we considered non-negotiable. Taking inspiration from the gabled roofs we created a recessed double-storey gable window to conceptually guide the new building. We wanted to sensitively introduce contemporary form, scale and materiality, without diminishing established building hierarchies.

The new Centre includes an elevated pedestrian connection between the Convent and Music Centre, a dedicated performance space for the music curriculum, an additional multipurpose teaching space for band practice, storage, and new toilet facilities. We were also able to ensure the ground floor, a highly functional space, doubles as a green room for the adjacent dramatic arts facility. Linear windows add transparency, light, and frame the courtyard, trees, the vaulted arches of the existing buildings, and the school community moving between.

Upstairs, we created an industrious and professional learning environment. Through thoughtful deployment of design narrative and materials, the physical volume of the auditorium feels generous and heightens the sense of drama. The raked ceiling draws the eye to the north of the room, where the gable frames the connection between new and old, and the transition between them. When the curtains are drawn, the focus is on the performer. Drapery also acts as cost-effective partitions to alter the volume of the room for different functions, intimacy or collective engagement. Acoustic treatments allow for a variety of musical performances simultaneously on both levels. A contrasting colour palette asserts the building’s relationship within its context.

Externally, the cladding of the Centre signals an uncomplicated design aesthetic, modest, and budget mindful, yet striving. Through this dark matte Colorbond we recessed the form into its surrounds to draw focus onto the gable window. It reflects the Convent’s materiality and form and the animation of the courtyard as the school community moves within it.

The gracious arc of the elevated pedestrian bridge opens up the façade to lightly brush the Convent building. Here, too, old meets new in a carefully considered expression of artistic endeavour.

This project won the AIA SA Colorbond 2019 Architecture Award.