Sydney Catholic school the first in Australia to be constructed out of mass timber

Date: 17-Apr-19
Author: David Rowlinson

OLA Catholic Primary School © David Rowlinson

OLA Catholic Primary School

Responsibly sourced wood is the only major building material that helps tackle climate change. It’s the ‘ultimate renewable’ – storing carbon for the life of the building and having much lower embodied energy than conventional, more carbon-intensive building materials.

We also know that wood is good for our health and wellbeing and can help to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. It’s becoming increasingly clear that using wood and ‘biophilic design’ brings the benefits of nature into our homes and offices, schools and hospitals.

In many parts of the world, including Australia, the renaissance of timber construction is developing rapidly. There are many fine examples of this, including the recently completed Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School, a new K-6 school for 420 students in North Strathfield, NSW. The project reused a rundown 1970s three-storey former Telstra training centre that was a typical institutional example of brutalist concrete architecture of its time, and transformed into an inspirational educational space it using prefabricated mass-timber construction.

The overarching design approach was to provide flexible and open learning spaces using sustainable materials that created a warm atmosphere as a calm background to the learning. Of equal importance was the need to produce a variety of differently scaled spaces to suit small children, together with a high use of technology. The use of movable screens and joinery that included shelves, built-in seats and withdrawal spaces, as well as lightweight and movable furniture, enables different configurations for teaching and learning. 

The scope of works included an additional level on top of the existing building, as well as a 4-storey atrium connecting all learning areas and forming the main entry, a new hall, arts space and roof-top playgrounds. These were added to the existing structure and built using prefabricated mass-timber construction, utilising cross-laminated timber (CLT) walls and a glued-laminated timber (Glulam) portal frame structure.

This is the first time a Glulam/CLT structure has been used for a school in Australia. The benefits are a high quality, precise and environmentally friendly construction, as well as long-term wellbeing for occupants and an energy efficient use of the school.

Principal Catherine Young said she was very proud of the learning experience the school is able to offer. “Nothing has been built without a reason, everything has been designed to maximise the learning experience for the students,” she said. “As a future-focused school, we seek to make the learning environments relevant to our students, all the while exercising stewardship of resources.”

The built environment is the primary source of CO2 emissions in Australia and around the world. Following the lead taken by architects BVN on the OLA school, the use of more responsibly sourced wood in construction undoubtedly has the potential to significantly reduce the impact of climate change.

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David                                             Rowlinson
Author: David Rowlinson

Make it Wood Program Manager



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