KTA’s brief for reworking Deakin University’s School of Architecture & Built Environment/ A+B Building was to change from the highly cellular existing configuration of academic, teaching and research spaces to fit the school’s shift towards a more integrated arrangement of these activities. The brief was linked with a modest project budget.
Our various obligations extended to the obvious – user group, staff and students and the property services group representing University policy. They also extended to the built integrity of what had gone before, to the bones of the original historic fabric of the wool-store and to the work of previous architects McGlashan Everist. There was a broader obligation to limit the extent of resources needed to achieve strategic goals through adaptive re-use and economy of means.
With the brief and these obligations in mind, we operated according to the following intents: draw heavily upon what’s found in the existing conditions, reconfigure this largely through a process of edits, achieve transparency in the east-west direction and opacity north-south, accordingly deleting north-south walls, replace some of these with stud frames and retain many of east-west as enfilade. These intents set up a privacy gradient from west to east whereby the school now has greater connection to the public interface of the atrium. The school’s workings are made evident; these workings in turn constitute its identity. Gallery, pin-up, critique space and public access converge.
Robust, unprecious, capable of being appropriated in multiple ways, the enfilade walls are devoted to exhibition/ pin-up, in this way capturing their fundamental role in the school’s pedagogy and foundational place in its culture. The anxiety of moving from individual offices to more open plan –university policy – was accommodated by providing a variety of scale in the resultant grain of the work areas. More intimate and open, more quiet and collective. People choose their spot. Till succinctly describes this approach:
“Slack space operates more as a robust background than a refined foreground….design skill, that is deployed quietly in setting a social scene rather than noisily in constructing a visual scenography.” – Till on Hill’s Actions of Architecture.
In the context of the other two schools of architecture that have been recently completed – RMIT’s Design Hub & University of Melbourne’s MSD – KTA’s re-work of this School tackles the space of educating architects and designers in an alternative way. If the Design Hub might be described as universal and MSD as directive of use in its particularity of detail, KTA’s design for Deakin A+B can be understood as between the two: structured without being prescriptive.