The new architecture school building fronts a quad at the University of Melbourne; a façade clad in Bianco Precast concrete panels overlooks an adjacent greenspace.
Peter Bennetts The new architecture school building fronts a quad at the University of Melbourne; a façade clad in Bianco Precast concrete panels overlooks an adjacent greenspace.


In the early 19th century, when the architect Félix Duban undertook to transform Paris’s hallowed École des Beaux-Arts, his signal maneuver was to place a late-medieval archway in the forecourt of the design academy’s classical piazza. But the Arc de Gaillon wasn’t just decoration: It was a radical teaching tool, one that demonstrated through its hybrid Gothic–Renaissance style how structure and form could evolve over time, and that there was more to architecture than Greco-Roman antiquity.

Nearly 200 years later and some 10,000 miles away, two very different firms—Boston’s NADAAA and local firm John Wardle Architects (JWA)—have just finished a new architecture school, the University of Melbourne School of Design’s Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning building. Located in Australia’s sunny second city, it’s a building that doesn’t appear, at first, to incite much intellectual curiosity: Clad on three sides in perforated aluminum sunshades, with a blank south front, it seems just another architectural curio on a campus already littered with evidence of every design trend of the last century-and-change.

East facade, as seen from the adjacent plaza.
Peter Bennetts East facade, as seen from the adjacent plaza.

But on closer inspection, this is a building whose didactic ambitions make Duban’s look like a remedial course. Tom Kvan is the dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, and he describes the four big-ticket items that comprised the original brief: “The building had to be an investigation into the future of studio; into the future of academic work; it needed to be a living building; and it had to be a pedagogical building—one that teaches us and that we learn from constantly,” he says. On all points, but most especially on the last, the Wardle–NADAAA team have carried the day with a solution that almost overflows with ideas—a place the School of Design’s more than 3,000 students will not only learn in but learn from.

The collaboration came about rather serendipitously. “We were contacted first by John about three days before the competition deadline,” recalls Nader Tehrani, the now-outgoing head of the architecture program at MIT and the founding principal of NADAAA. Tehrani had recently visited Melbourne, but “we hadn’t known it,” says John Wardle, principal of Collingwood, Australia–based John Wardle Architects, who’d been out of town at the time. As luck would have it, Tehrani had seen a Wardle project during his stay, and was sufficiently impressed to join forces almost instantly. “Nader said yes within about 20 seconds of me asking,” Wardle says, and in short order the team found out that their proposal had made it past the first round of the design competition, which included more than 130 applicants.

The steel-and-concrete-framed building is designed to showcase a variety of architectural systems to the students inside, who are learning the craft of architecture. Thus the structure of such elements as this cantilevered stack of workspaces on the northeastern edge of the building is left exposed. The metals fins and louvers shade the glass-enclosed volume of the building.
Peter Bennetts The steel-and-concrete-framed building is designed to showcase a variety of architectural systems to the students inside, who are learning the craft of architecture. Thus the structure of such elements as this cantilevered stack of workspaces on the northeastern edge of the building is left exposed. The metals fins and louvers shade the glass-enclosed volume of the building.

Significant changes had to be made to their winning design to fit a tight university budget, but the core conceit of the design remains largely unchanged. “The building as a type is very simple,” Tehrani says. “It’s an atrium building, a donut.” It’s a donut with a difference, however, as this one is lofted up a story: The first-floor entry level is a continuation of the campus, with fabrication workshops, the library, and exhibition spaces arrayed around a central concourse; only on ascending the stairs does the visitor find the atrium, with four stories of galleries ringed around an open lounge space topped by a dramatic coffered wood ceiling.

Acoustic ceiling panels help to dampen sound in the stone, glass, and metal-lined foyer. A wood-lined coffer from Timberbuilt gives a glimpse of the main design studio above.
Peter Bennetts Acoustic ceiling panels help to dampen sound in the stone, glass, and metal-lined foyer. A wood-lined coffer from Timberbuilt gives a glimpse of the main design studio above.

The list of design details, and of the programmatic significance of each, is fairly astonishing, a result of a Skype-based collaboration that Wardle describes as “a conversation that constantly generated ideas.” The undersides of several staircases, for example, are unfinished, exposing the steel to “reveal how the stair is constructed,” as dean Kvan puts it. In the entryway concourse, there’s a small glass portal in the ceiling so that non-architecture students passing from east to west can get a glimpse into the light-filled atrium above, a little teaser to encourage them to head upstairs and see what the designers are up to. From the metal protective mesh surrounding the galleries to the worktables embedded partially in it to help hold the screen in tension; from the swiveling panel walls of the atrium-level studios to the glass windows near the basement auditoriums that give students a glimpse into the boiler rooms—almost nothing in the building is without some educational import concerning materials, building science, and the art of architecture.

The atrium features a faceted wooden structure called the Suspended Studio.
Peter Bennetts The atrium features a faceted wooden structure called the Suspended Studio.

All of these little Arc de Gaillon moments inside are set off by one big one on the exterior. What had been the decorative façade of the Joseph Reed–designed Bank of New South Wales, completed in 1859 and gifted to the school after the original building’s demolition in 1932, has been tacked onto a portion of the new architecture building just as it had been to the school’s now-demolished previous structure. This extraordinary set piece and beloved campus fixture (which is secreted under green scaffolding, and will be until its installation on the new structure is completed in December) is given an appealing bit of deference by the brash metal building that surrounds it, with the irregular zinc louvers billowing around it slightly—“like a curtain,” says JWA principal Stefan Mee—a lesson in how even the past can find a place in the architecture of the future.

A meeting spacesits  under the structure of the Suspended Studio in the atrium.
Peter Bennetts A meeting spacesits under the structure of the Suspended Studio in the atrium.

So profuse, in fact, is the structure’s built-in curriculum that it leaves one a little in doubt as to how much its already-harried students will be able to absorb. “The more we got into it, the more scripting we felt was required,” Wardle says, and the result is a building with a very thick plot indeed. What is likely to become its most recognizable feature, the striking Suspended Studio that dangles like a wooden lightning bolt in the atrium, is also a sort of metonym, a symbol of the whole—a place where the building, and the students in it, seem to be flying beyond the limits of the possible. That, claims Tehrani, is the whole point, a mark of how much the necessity of dynamism and adaptability has become the hallmark of architectural education since the days of the Beaux-Arts. “We’re still always working with an understanding that the building has to be timeless,” he says. “But architecture is changing radically.”

View out the rolling window wall at the base of the south facade.
Peter Bennetts View out the rolling window wall at the base of the south facade.


Staff lounge.
Peter Bennetts Staff lounge.


Classroom
Peter Bennetts Classroom


To finish the exposed concrete to pristine smoothness, the architects turned to products like Renderoc.
Peter Bennetts To finish the exposed concrete to pristine smoothness, the architects turned to products like Renderoc.


Concrete trusses support the roof of the library, which extends under a lawn on the structure’s south side.
Peter Bennetts Concrete trusses support the roof of the library, which extends under a lawn on the structure’s south side.


On the basement level, acoustic wallcovering helps control sound in the area outside the main auditorium, seen through the blue glass. Concrete and ductwork are left exposed throughout the structure.
Peter Bennetts On the basement level, acoustic wallcovering helps control sound in the area outside the main auditorium, seen through the blue glass. Concrete and ductwork are left exposed throughout the structure.

Open work area.
Peter Bennetts Open work area.

View into the Suspended Studio.
Peter Bennetts View into the Suspended Studio.


Around the entrances to the Suspended Studio on the upper levels are open work areas where students can collaborate.
Peter Bennetts Around the entrances to the Suspended Studio on the upper levels are open work areas where students can collaborate.

The underside of the switch-back stair is left exposed so that students can understand its steel structure.
Peter Bennetts The underside of the switch-back stair is left exposed so that students can understand its steel structure.


Inside the Suspended Studio.
Peter Bennetts Inside the Suspended Studio.

Each level on the stair is noted by a floor number attached to the metal mesh that lines the walls of the atrium.
Peter Bennetts Each level on the stair is noted by a floor number attached to the metal mesh that lines the walls of the atrium.

The concrete panels of the south facade are interrupted by windows into the lab and studio spaces.
Peter Bennetts The concrete panels of the south facade are interrupted by windows into the lab and studio spaces.


A historic masonry façade, gifted to the school in 1932, is still under the green scaffolding in the distance as the installation completes. The pre-weathered zinc panels from VMZinc and the metal rainscreens and louvers from Fabmetal that clad this portion of the new building will provide a material contrast.
Peter Bennetts A historic masonry façade, gifted to the school in 1932, is still under the green scaffolding in the distance as the installation completes. The pre-weathered zinc panels from VMZinc and the metal rainscreens and louvers from Fabmetal that clad this portion of the new building will provide a material contrast.


Drawings




Project Credits Project  Faculty of Architecture, Building & Planning, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Client  University of Melbourne
Architect  John Wardle Architects and NADAAA in collaboration
Collaborating Architect  John Wardle Architects, Collingwood Victoria, Melbourne, Australia—John Wardle, Stefan Mee (principals-in-charge); Meaghan Dwyer (senior associate); Stephen Georgalas (project manager); Bill Krotiris, Andy Wong, Jasmin Williamson, Adam Kolsrud, Alex Peck, Barry Hayes, Jeff Arnold, Amanda Moore, James Loder, Danny Truong, Stuart Mann, Meron Tierney, Kenneth Wong, Sharon Crabb, Yohan Abhayaratne, Rebecca Wilkie, Ben Sheridan, Giorgio Marfella, Kirrilly Wilson, Elisabetta Zanella, Adrian Bonaventura, Genevieve Griffiths, Michael Barraclough, Matthew Browne, Maria Bauer, Anja Grant (team)
Collaborating Architect  NADAAA, Boston—Nader Tehrani (principals-in-charge); John Chow (project manager); Arthur Chang (design coordinator); Katie Faulkner, AIA, James Juricevich, Parke MacDowell, Marta Guerra Pastrián, Tim Wong, AIA, Ryan Murphy, Ellee Lee, Kevin Lee, Rich Lee (project team)
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer  Aurecon Group
Structural/Civil Engineer  Irwinconsult
Landscape Architect  Oculus
Lighting Designer  Electrolight
Geotechnical Engineer  Douglas Partners
Project Manager  Aurecon Group
General Contractor  Brookfield Multiplex
Quantity Surveyor  Rider Levett Bucknall
Building Services Engineering and Sustainability Consultancy  Umow Lai
Building Sustainability Comissioning Agent  A.G. Coombs Group
Building Certifier  McKenzie Group
Accessibility Consultant  One Group ID
Acoustic Consultant  AECOM
Heritage Architects  RBA Architects + Conservation Consultants
Audio Visual  Avdec
Security  Aurecon Group
Traffic Engineering  Cardno
Size  15,772 square meters (169,768 square feet)

Materials and Sources

Acoustical System  Tontine Insulation tontineinsulation.com.au; Pyrotek pyroteknc.com; Megasorber megasorber.com
Audio Visual  Rutledge Engineering rutledge.com.au
Adhesives, Coatings and Sealants Tremco tremcosealants.com; Ardex ardexaustralia.com
Appliances  Fisher & Paykel fisherpaykel.com/au; Bosch bosch.com.au
Building Management Systems and Services  Schneider Electric schneider-electric.com
Carpet  Godfrey Hirst godfreyhirst.com; Interface FLOR interfaceflor.com.au; Supertuft Carpets supertuft.com.au
Ceilings  Knauff knaufplasterboard.com.au; Lindner Group lindner-group.com; Armstrong armstrong-aust.com.au
Concrete  I & D Group id-group.net.au; Advanced Precast advprecast.com.au; Bianco Precast biancoprecast.com.au
Electrical  Eascom Electrical eascom.com.au
Elevators  ThyssenKrupp Elevator thyssenkrupp-elevator.com.au
Exterior Wall Systems  Bianco Precast biancoprecast.com.au; Fabmetal fabmetal.com.au; VMZinc www.vmzinc.com.au
Fabrics and Finishes  Kvadrat kvadrat.dk
Fire Services  ARA Fire autofire.com.au
Flooring  Forbo www.forbo-flooring.com.au; WoodSolutions woodsolutions.com.au; Ceramic Solutions ceramicsolutions.com.au
Furniture  Jacaranda Industries jacarandaindustries.com; Schiavello schiavello.com; Steelcase steelcase.com; Stylecraft stylecraft.com.au
Glass  Viridian viridianglass.com; Century Glass
Gypsum  Knauf knaufplasterboard.com.au
HVAC  Ellis Air Climate Control ellisair.com.au
Insulation  Bradford Insulation bradfordinsulation.com.au
Lighting Controls Systems  Eascom Electrical eascom.com.au
Lighting  Eascom Electrical eascom.com.au; Maxlight maxlight.com.au; Dean Phillips deanphillips.com
Masonry and Stone  IG Parker igparker.com
Metal  Fabmetal fabmetal.com.au; Jakob Rope Systems jakob.com; Tensile Design & Construct tensile.com.au; MacDonald Marine mcmarine.com.au; Alucobond www.alucobond.com.au; Lysaght lysaght.com
Millwork  Jacaranda Industries jacarandaindustries.com
Paints and Finishes  Dulux www.dulux.com
Piling  Vibropile vibropile.com.au
Plumbing and Water System  Project Developments projectdevelopments.com.au; Syfon Systems syfon.com; Caroma Industries caroma.com.au; Astra Walker astrawalker.com.au; Sterling Products sterlingproducts.net.au; Radiant radiantstainless.com.au; Zip Industries zipindustries.com
Roofing  Lysaght lysaght.com
Seating  Sebel Furniture sebelfurniture.com; Vitra vitra.com; Gregory Commercial Furniture gcfau.com.au
Security  Expert Security www.expertsecurity.com.au
Structural System  Precast concrete; reinforced concrete; steel frame; LVL Beams
Timber LVL Beams and Coffers  Timberbuilt Solutions
Wallcoverings  Atkar atkar.com.au; Autex autex.com.au; GlassKote glasskote.com; Novawall novawall.com; Knauf knaufplasterboard.com.au; Woven Image wovenimage.com
Walls  Knauf knaufplasterboard.com.au; Highrise Carpentry highrisecarpentry.com.au; SBS Group sbsgroup.com.au; Parchem parchem.com
Wayfinding  Buro North buronorth.com
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors  Seelite Windows & Doors; Hufcor hufcor.com; Vertilux vertilux.com.au