In most schools, gymnasiums are geared towards traditional conceptions of physical activity; those played out predominantly on multi-use fields, perhaps with some climbing ropes and specialised equipment able to be carted out when required.

At Melbourne Girls Grammar School, the gymnasium deviates so far from this traditional conception as to barely register as a gymnasium. Instead, the newly-completed centre – designed by BVN – is called the Physical Performance and Health Centre. Not just geared towards the physical demands of team sports and conventional fitness regimes, it aims at the holistic wellbeing of students.

One of the design intentions for this building was to bring outdated physical education curricula into line with the rest of the school’s 21st century learning environment. The result is a spacious, integrated, 4,500sqm building that encompasses a 25-metre indoor pool, multi-use sports courts, a gymnasium, a spin fitness studio, consultation rooms, change facilities, classrooms, a mind and body studio, a high-energy studio, cafe space, and an administration hub.

The ‘integrated’ aspect of the building refers to its situation within an existing, complex urban environment. Not only did BVN’s Physical Performance and Health Centre design have to complement the established campus building at Melbourne Girls Grammar School, it also needed to be respectful of the broader South Yarra context, which is home to residential neighbours, a heritage-listed chapel, and Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

The tapered, tiered design is distinct from other campus buildings in both geometry and material selection, yet both its height and colour palette refer back to its context within both Melbourne Girls Grammar School and South Yarra. The building’s street-facing façade is a modern composition of glass and vertically-aligned golden slats, which attain a rough alignment with the height of surrounding buildings. The colours selected by BVN for the façade are consciously complementary to the brick-heavy structures that surround the new centre.

The other side of the Physical Performance and Health Centre is less about height than it is about depth. On this school-facing frontage, students are drawn into the building via staircases that abut a sunken, tiered amphitheatre. This area represents the largest of three outdoor terraces incorporated within the building; it is capable of accommodating all of the students at Melbourne Girls Grammar senior school, who will have clear views into the 25-metre pool on competition days.

Both in aesthetic and function, the Physical Performance and Health Centre is less akin to traditional gymnasiums than it is to private wellbeing centres. If not built within the enclosed grounds of Melbourne Girls Grammar School, it would fit comfortably amidst the private wellbeing centres of its broader South Yarra context.