5 architectural firms working on one campus facelift

Architects: MvS Architects, NMBW Architects, Harrison and White, Maddison Architects, Taylor Cullity Leathlean.
Lead Architect: Lyons Architecture
Company Bio: Lyons is an architectural and urban design practice based in Melbourne, Australia. The practice is known for large commercial and institutional buildings.
Location: Melbourne CBD.
Completion Date: 2017.
Area: 32,000 square metres.
Client: RMIT University.
Structural Engineer: ArupArup.Contractor: Lend Lease Building
Services Engineer: Aecom
Awards: Victorian Architecture Medal 2018, Henry Bastow Award for Best Educational Architecture winner 2018, Joseph Reed Award for Urban Design winner 2018, Melbourne Prize co-winner 2018.
Budget: $220m.

RMIT university campus
[Image: Lyons Architecture]
It could have easily backfired: asking multiple architectural firms to design their own spaces within the same construction could have led to a disastrous mish-mash. But whilst the end result of ‘The New Academic Street’ Precinct of RMIT University’s Melbourne CBD campus does have a sense of unpredictability about it, that only adds to the dynamism that it offers.

Whilst each firm took ownership over their own spaces, they are united in their attempts to keep the design youthful – they pull no punches in engaging with a recognisably young aesthetic. There are all the classic elements of the hipster lexicon: the industrial lighting is there, the exposed concrete too and of course a lot of block colours punctuate each space. Each too embrace the challenge of utilising buildings from across the decades, revelling in creating new connections.

RMIT university campus
[Image: Lyons Architecture]
Headed up by Lyons Architecture who chose four other architectural practices and a landscape practice with alumni connections to RMIT, each firm was assigned a space based on their catalogue of previous work and strengths as a firm. The practices selected were Minifie van Schaik (MvS), Harrison and White, Maddison Architects, NMBW Architecture Studio and landscape architects Taylor Cullity Leathlean.

Lyon was chosen for their vision of incorporating the new and the old through a collaborative project. “In the pitch,” Carey Lyon elaborated, “we expressed how the existing 1960s buildings were very monolithic in nature and rather than simply have one design practice […] diversity could be brought into the project via a collaborative team”

RMIT university campus
[Image: Lyons Architecture]
Spanning five years, collaboration was clearly key to the success of the mammoth project. And this is reflected in the central theme of interconnectedness, both between the buildings themselves and the University and the street. For example, the focus on blending the university into its surroundings led to the construction of a new frontage on Swanson Street that has helped the campus merge with the cityscape. In addition, designers looked for inspiration in Melbourne’s famous laneways, adding new entry points through the construction of laneways, open air walkways, balconies and more street entrances. It’s made the campus being easer to navigate for students and making the campus more porous in its relationship to the city.

The new porousness of the buildings has allowed light to fill the spaces, with glass roofed arcades and the rooftop converted into functional spaces, students experiences of the dark and muddled collection of buildings from across various decades have been transformed into a contemporary vibrant experience.

RMIT university campus
[Image: Lyons Architecture]
Under the design, facilities have also been upgraded drastically and more space has been added making the campus more functional for students’ needs. Across the campus over 4000 new seats have been added – ranging from traditional desk spaces to beanbags and deck chairs on the rooftop. The library itself doubled its capacity and now offers over 2000 study spaces.

RMIT university campus
[Image: Lyons Architecture]
The design has already been handed a host of awards for its collaborative success, most notably the 2018 Victorian Architecture Medal. James Legge, jury chair for the 2018 awards commented

“Existing buildings from various eras have been excavated and incised to create arcade-like connections and internal streets. The effect has been to stitch RMIT into the surrounding city fabric, allowing the public in and creating dynamic and engaging environments for the students and staff. The project provides a critical piece of urban design for this area of the city.”

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