June 2002

Australian International School

Quality learning environment

Remember, as a youngster, the triangles you played with during music lessons, or the quiet strum with your band in a corner of the playground when everybody else had gone home? Most aspiring young musicians today would be content with the same; that is, until they find out what those at the Australian International School (AIS) are treated to.

At AIS, which is keen to cultivate their students' musicality, there is not only an auditorium with first-rate acoustics, but also a full-fledged recording studio and six small rehearsal rooms.
        It wasn't always like this, of course. Founded in 1995 with just 24 students, AIS had occupied four campuses over the past six years, the last of which was the temporary government school premises at Cheung Sha Wan. The prospect of a change for the better appeared in late 1998, when the school was allocated a 5,780 sq m site in Kowloon Tong. Funding for the new HK$200 million school campus was provided by a HK$60 million grant from the Hong Kong Jockey Club and a HK$20 million loan from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation of Australia. The government provided an interest-free loan of HK$77 million from both the Education Department and the Manpower Bureau.
        Leighton Contractors (Asia) Ltd was brought in to develop the new school on a design-and-build basis. Since Design Consultants Ltd (DCL) had been providing architectural design input to AIS for some time, they were taken on board as the project's architect.
        What was subsequently developed is a significant achievement in every sense: the range of facilities that were fitted into a small footprint; the speed of construction; and, amazingly, the savings which the client and contractor were able to share under the guaranteed maximum price contract arrangement after enhancements had been made.
        Located at the junction of Tim Fuk Road and Norfolk Road, AIS consists of a nine-storey building designed to accommodate a maximum of 1,044 students. L-shaped on plan, it contains classrooms and laboratories in one block and a diverse range of facilities stacked on top of one another in the other. These include a cafeteria on the first floor; an auditorium and recording studio on the second; a multi-purpose hall on the fourth; a library on the fifth; and a gymnasium on the sixth.

The activities block
The cafeteria was to be located on the third floor under the original proposal. To improve circulation, however, it subsequently swapped places with the administration office. As a result, it is now possible to expand the cafeteria by opening the sliding doors to offer additional covered outdoor seating overlooking the soccer pitch, which is enclosed by the two arms of the L-shaped building.
        The original proposal also envisaged the construction of a swimming pool in a basement. However, according to Leighton divisional M&E manager Paul Evans, a value engineering exercise was carried out and it was concluded that the proposal would be both costly and time-consuming due to the additional foundation works required. It was by no means axed though; the swimming pool was moved to the roof, where it commands sweeping views of the low-rise district. Provisions have been made for heating to be introduced.
        According to Mr Evans, a lot was invested in music facilities. The auditorium is fitted with a Bose sound system that is linked back to a commercial standard recording studio so that performances can be recorded. The recording studio can also be used as a rehearsal room: a video link between the two allows musicians to know exactly when they should make their entry into the auditorium. There are also six practice rooms behind the recording studio, which will be made available to outside musicians, to generate additional income for the school.
        The auditorium was fitted to comply with the NR 20 noise control standard. Large air ducts crossing the busy ceiling allow cool air to drop in quietly without the hum of conventional air-conditioning systems. Noise reflective panels in the ceiling and noise absorptive panels on the side walls are both designed to throw sound to the back of the room, ensuring audibility throughout the 450 sq m space. The 1,600 mm thick beams were painted with acoustic plaster, also to enhance the acoustic performance of the auditorium.
        A sprung floor prevents vibration from the multi-purpose hall above to reach the auditorium. Fitted with a vinyl floor, the hall is designed for sports such as badminton and volleyball and will also serve as an examination hall and other functions. The tallest of the three double-height facilities, the 8 m high gymnasium is a dedicated sports hall with a timber floor. Vertical window strips overlooking the outdoor pitch allow a glimpse of the outside from the activity block while minimising thermal gain.
        Thick beams transfer the load of the double height facilities to the rest of the structure and, like the auditorium, the beams and slab of the library on the fifth floor were also painted with acoustic plaster to reduce ambient noise. Additional lighting nodes were installed to ensure adequate illumination. The large open plan library has both primary and secondary sections together with an activity and specialist audio-visual area.
        The swimming pool sits above the gymnasium in a breezy, outdoor environment. A fabric structure may be installed at a later date to offer weather protection for the pool, the L shape of which allows its division into a larger area for lap swimming and a smaller, shallower training pool area for the younger children.

The classroom block
Capitalising on prevailing winds, the classrooms are set back from tiled open corridors on each floor, designed to allow the breeze to blow through the gap between the two blocks. The schools philosophy of education for all includes several features specifically for the physically challenged. In line with the objective of barrier-free access, the generously spaced corridors are in a direct line with the passenger lift situated near the central staircase. Tactile guide paths and Braille imprints on the staircase railings help the visually impaired move freely around the school.
        There are ten laboratories and workshops on the seventh floor for various subjects, including biology, chemistry, physics, textiles, computers and languages.
        All classrooms have been designed with future IT demands in mind. In addition to a built-in video projector, each classroom is hard wired with ten data points expandable to 30 data points in future. Provisions for wireless LAN have also been made.
        The roof of the classroom block is currently unoccupied, but with a view towards maximising the use of space, several options are being considered, including the installation of cricket practice nets and a skateboard park.
        The school is distinguished by a green glazed canopy atop the void at the junction of the two blocks. It is both an architectural feature and weather protection for the traffic spine. The glazing is supported on two groups of four steel columns weighing approximately 2 tons each, which were fabricated in China then brought to site and bolted into place on top of two reinforced concrete columns.
        At the bottom of the void, on the second floor, a mosaic pattern on the floor, in five earthy colours, was laid to conjure up associations with Australian culture and history. The walls to the auditorium were tiled in a brick red colour suggesting similarities with the famous Australian landmark, Ayers Rock.
        All the facilities are provided within a small footprint. Site development constraints dictated that both a primary and secondary school had to fit in an overall area of only 18,000 sq m. Not only that: everything was built and installed in 17 months.
        The guaranteed maximum price form of contract has its risks, but thanks to the cooperative spirit prevalent among those involved in this project, the result has been a win-win situation for all. As Mr Evans explained, this form of contract allowed a bigger overlap of the design and construction processes than a traditional form of contract, thus shortening the development timeframe. Leighton was thus able to commence initial construction on some areas while the detailed design for others was still being finalised with the input of the end users.
        Some of the savings achieved were shared between the client and contractor, but some were channelled back into the project. For example, the savings allowed the contractor to procure floodlights for the football pitch, which were not in the original design brief, thus allowing the pitch to generate extra income for the school through private rentals outside normal school hours.
        The timely completion of the project is a remarkable achievement given the challenges that stood in the way. These included a 2.5-month delay of power delivery which necessitated the testing of all facilities using back-up generators; and completing all external works during what was the wettest June in memory. The occupation permit was secured just hours before the new school year was due to start but, as it was, celebrations were dampened by the hoisting of the black rainstorm signal -- meaning all schools in Hong Kong had to remain closed for the day!

Australian International School Hong Kong

Leighton Contractors (Asia) Ltd
project developer

Design Consultants Ltd

Meinhardt (C&S) Ltd
structural engineer

Meinhardt (M&E) Ltd
e&m engineer

ERM Hong Kong Ltd
acoustic engineer

Osprey Project Management
contract administrator

WT Partnership
quantity surveyor

-- Building Journal