Josiah College: Creating an Autism-Specific Learning Environment

It’s that time of the year when as parents we are both dreading and wishing to ‘bring on the holidays’. Yes we need the time out too but what do you mean it’s the last week of school? Christmas is 4 weeks away are you sure? How did that happen? Do we have to get new sports shoes before the end of the year? How about not wearing socks for a few weeks? So many questions and so many reflections of what was yet another school year gone in flash.

The school year of 2018 for HHH was a particularly significant one. We had the privilege of working with our long term clients Emmanuel College to create Josiah College, Queensland’s 1st purpose designed and built new school for children with Autism. Construction on the Carrara site commenced in mid October 2017 and Josiah opened its classrooms to 16 students in April 2018.

Helen Innes-Hill (Co-Director of Josiah College): the Vision for Josiah came about when we realise that a Emmanuel College was actually unable to meet some of the students who were applying and was having to turn them away. There was a strong feeling that an Emmanuel College’s education should be available for every student no matter what their level of need and from there the seed for Josiah College as a vision began.

The 8000 m2 site is adjacent to Emmanuel College

Patrick Innes-Hill (Principal of Emmanuel College): We’re a Christian School and Emmanuel is named after one of the names of God which is God With Us, one of the Biblical names. Josiah is another godly name and it means God who supports because Josiah College isn’t there to do the work for the children or to look after the children, it’s there to support them and give them a spring-board into the rest of their lives.

Alan Hayes (Director HHH Architects): We are very excited when Emmanuel College first said this was something they want to do – a school designed specifically for children with Autism.

So our first exercise really was to go off and do a whole lot of research. And the second part of this exercise really was intently listening to their advice and their indications of what they see as the critical elements in creating such a specialised school. It’s been a great exercise, really interesting and very rewarding.

Helen Innes-Hill: Students with Autism can find it difficult to focus in environments which can be overloading from a sensory point of view. So where it will be busy and noisy and very stimulating at Emmanuel College; at Josiah, it will be much calmer ad much quieter. There are filters in place at Josiah College, to create the ideal learning environment for students with Autism. We have taken into consideration all necessities to learn and in that, have considered what makes the student feel most secure, less distracted, and the most able to learn.

Patrick Innes-Hill: The architects from Hamilton Hayes Henderson – Ed and Allan in particular, and the Co-Directors of Josiah, and myself have spent a lot of time looking at research from Egypt, from America, and from New Zealand, and trying to work out the best way forward to create the ideal learning environment. It’s been a very exciting, really creative project.

Ed Lightbody back to the drawing board

Ed Lightbody (HHH Architect): The idea of the Josiah project is to have a very natural-looking building. The intention was that it be like a child’s fort – like a child’s playground. So therefore the whole school was an extension of that initial idea.

Helen Innes-Hill: Everything from the design of the building, the finish of the building, the location of the building, to the class size of eight students with two members of staff, has been carefully thought through. The curriculum – what we’ll study, how we’ll study it, the adventure of learning that will all link together, and will look very different from the adventure of learning at Emmanuel College.

Jo Palmer (Co-Director at Josiah College): We know that we need to be part of the research for the future. We also know that what we’ve got is not going to be necessarily perfect – it needs to be continually evolving.  So in the future, it is necessary that we will develop and as the classrooms are added to – we’ll find that some aspects of the first model we created may need to alter slightly to improve.

It’s been beneficial to think these aspects through with the future in mind and not to just build the full school straight up. We want to collect data to be able to build a case study and from there, get a couple of classrooms going and see how it goes. Once we have gathered this data, then we can look at how Josiah College will evolved and continue to become better and better for students facing autism.

Helen Innes-Hill: Students who come to Josiah will be students who are probably finding mainstream education at the moment very challenging. This means that these students are not feeling their most secured and settled, and therefore, are not attaining to their full potential. We hope that by putting them in a college that’s been designed and thought through with their specific needs in mind, we can equip them with choices into the future. Then, at some point, perhaps they will be better equipped to transition into mainstream schooling. Or perhaps they’ll transition to TAFE or apprenticeships. We want Josiah College to offer them that range of choice for their future life.

Alan Hayes: We’ve been talking about the concept and building for two years, and we’ve been doing the building for six months. In a way for me, this is where the work really begins. Because once the children are enrolled and the families are here, we’ve got our relationships to build; we’ve got our learning to do; we’ve got our playtimes to play. That’s a challenge in itself but an amazing challenge that HHH Architects are up for.

With some minimal design adjustments two more classes are currently being prepared for Term 1 of next year and Stage 2 of Josiah commences construction mid 2019. Stage 2 will consist of 6 new classrooms and an outdoor adventure playground.

Share This Post

You may also be interested in...

HHH are looking for experienced project leaders

We are looking for proven ability in technical design development across multiple sectors, such as retail, commercial, hospitality or multi-residential, from concept to construction phase. You will be working within a great studio environment and a small, friendly team. We are based in one of the Gold Coast’s creative hubs near Miami beach.

Flexible work arrangements are offered to suit each individual along with salary to match experience.

Please send your CV to