MacKillop Catholic College

Used in this project

Shale Grey™
With large, cantilevered roofs sitting lantern-like atop the weightiness of a concrete block work-base, HASSELL has made a new Northern Territory school a beacon in the landscape that offers as warm welcome to its community.

Distinguished by a steel-tough outer 'shell' and a softer, open courtyard interior, this new Catholic secondary college at Palmerston – about 25 kilometres south-east of Darwin – is highly responsive to its site.

Perth-based architect David Gulland of HASSELL said that his response to the client's brief took him back to first principles. "It was good for the clients to see where we were coming from, talking about the site and a conceptual layout," Gulland says.

Concurrently, HASSELL was working on several other education projects that were at various stages of design and construction, including Dalyellup College in Perth. What made this one stand out was the unique attributes of the site.

"The site was a clear inspiration, partly because of the topography but also because CEO places a strong emphasis on spiritual and pastoral care, and the site was adjacent to indigenous heritage and natural heritage areas," Gulland says.

"This wasn't a typical school in a sub-division surrounded by roads, so the challenge for us was to make linkages to those places – gestures beyond the boundaries of the school – and also to capture views across Palmerston. The site conditions provided us with design opportunities for the community to see the school and vice versa: for the school to become a beacon in the landscape."

David Gulland, Architect, HASSELL

The nearby heritage site known as 17½ Mile Camp was a major defence point in World War II, when Darwin was under attack from Japanese bombers. Home to Australian and US troops in 1942, it now comprises preserved fox holes and interpretative signage that describes the site's history, and is part of a heritage trail that was completed while the school was under construction. The boundary between the two sites is deliberately low-key, to foster a sense of connection with the past for students.

On the other side of the school, an indigenous sacred site holds special significance for local Aboriginal people. "The school is keen to build relationships with the Larrakia nation, so the idea that there is a potential visual connection adjacent to the school became key to our orientation of the buildings at concept sketch stage," Gulland says. "We were keen to pay reference both to the sacred site and the heritage site – which occupies a topographical high point – and this influenced the orientation of the new buildings and the master plan approach to the site. We took into account the wind direction, soil conditions and topography as guiding elements driving the design."

The design strategy was inspired by the pods of the locally indigenous Kapok tree, which have a hard outer shell and are full of soft cotton-like material. "We opted for a hard exterior – using steel, concrete blocks and aluminium panels, and an open, courtyard-focused interior that is softer and very well connected," Gulland says.

The base of the buildings was constructed with concrete columns and block-work for fire engineering reasons, topped with a structural steel frame of 150x100RHS, 75SHS and 165CHS sections that support the upper level and roof. Roofing made from COLORBOND® steel in Steeline Steel Span 700 profile, in the colours Windspray® and Jasper® was used to clad the soaring roofs. The same material, in LYSAGHT CUSTOM ORB® profile, clads the upper walls – along with aluminium panel.

The two levels are visually separated by a shadow line which helps to break down the scale and the COLORBOND® steel wall cladding is applied in a rhythmic, ordered way.

"We developed a strong and direct plan layout, and wanted the cladding to be a modern interpretation of the existing site colours and textures."

David Gulland, Architect, HASSELL

For Gulland, the most successful aspect of the design is the way the buildings sit in the landscape and are knitted into the community. "It is a spectacular and beautiful site, and the way the building comes out of the hillside is a strong gesture," he says. "Inside, it is a series of learning spaces and learning communities which are all strongly knitted together.

"We didn't want to do something that was going to be driven by fashion rather than context and function," Gulland adds. "We want it to settle into the site and be timeless."



BlueScope 26/06/2014

Trademark Acknowledgements

LYSAGHT, COLORBOND® and BlueScope® are registered trademarks of BlueScope Steel Limited, ABN 16 000 011 058.


MacKillop Catholic College


Johnston, Northern Territory


Catholic Education Office, NT


HASSELL, with Jackman Gooden Architects in Association

Project Team

HASSELL Team: David Gulland – Project Director, Christopher Pratt – Design Architect, Reuben Bourke – Project Architect. Jackman Gooden Architects – Architects in Association: Col Browne

Structural Engineer

Townes Chappell Mudgway

Civil Engineer

Byrne Design


John Holland Construction

Steel Fabricator


Shop Drawing Contractor


Cladding Contractor

Halikos Roofing

Landscape Architects

Clouston Associates

Principal Steel Components: Roofing and upper wall cladding

Steeline Steel Span 700 profile made from COLORBOND® steel in the colours Windspray® and Jasper®

Principal Steel Components: Wall cladding

LYSAGHT CUSTOM ORB® profile made from COLORBOND® steel in the colours Windspray® and Jasper®.

Principal Steel Components: Soffits

Steeline Corrugated made from COLORBOND® steel in the colour Shale Grey™

Principal Steel Components: Flashing

COLORBOND® steel in the colours Windspray® and Jasper®.

Principal Steel Components: Structural Steel

150x100RHS, 75SHS and 165CHS sections to upper level and roof frame

Project Timeframe

Design: 2009-10, Construction: April 2011 to July 2012


Australian Institute of Architects Northern Territory Awards 2013: The Reverend John Flynn Award for Public Architecture

Building Size

6,100m² (GFA), including unenclosed covered area


Alex Taylor


Douglas Mark Black

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