Melbourne School of Design, Australia


Melbourne School of Design, Australia

A state-of-the-art educational and award-winning building

  • Aurecon's role: Project management, geotechnical, facade engineering, land surveying, building services
  • Client: University of Melbourne
  • Project team: Brookfield Multiplex, John Wardle Architects, NADAA (Architecture and Urban Design)

The School of Design at the University of Melbourne celebrates new levels of human-centered design, showcasing the successful combination of creative design, technology and sustainability.

Buildings that are truly inspired for the future demonstrate an understanding that the physical environment is not stagnant: it is a masterful web of originative design, sustainable construction and technology that work together to deliver a transformative experience for the end-users.

The AUD 129 million Melbourne School of Design (MSD) is a state-of-the-art educational building that has made a significant impact on Australia’s highest-ranked university, The University of Melbourne. This 17 000 m² colossus of glass, concrete, zinc, brick and steel is the home for students of architecture, planning and building. The facility enhances the student experience by merging environmental performance and leading-edge design in an extraordinary learning experience.

Aurecon provided project management, geotechnical, facade engineering, land surveying and building services. The multi award-winning building features technologically advanced and highly flexible studios, auditoria, lecture theatres, exhibition spaces, administrative and research work areas, as well as a library.

Impressively, at the time of completion in 2014, it was the largest of only 12 buildings in Australia to receive the industry lauded Green Buildings Council of Australia (GBCA) 6-Star rating and it was the only building to merit all 10 innovation points possible during evaluation, for incorporating rewarding applications, technologies, and uncommon approaches into its design.

In collaboration with Brookfield Multiplex, local firm John Wardle Architects, and Boston-based firm, NADAAA, Aurecon rose to the brief which challenged the team to deliver a living, pedagogical building four months ahead of schedule.

The pedagogy that was outlined in the initial project brief presented a few obstacles in terms of finding the right balance of exposed and hidden services. The building’s ceiling areas were created using a wide variety of building materials, including open areas, perforated sections and transparent ceiling materials, as well as solid materials.

Retaining the historic

A key project challenge was to retain the historic Victorian-era sandstone edifice designed in 1856 by Joseph Reed, one of Australia’s most notable architects at that time, while incorporating it into the western facade of the new building. While posing a number of design and logistics challenges, the project team successfully produced a beautiful result that was critical to the project achieving one of the 10 innovation points for preserving the structure’s cultural heritage.

Today, the Victorian frontage is flanked on each side by a modern display of metal, glass, and prefabricated concrete, rendering an overall dramatic blend of high-tech industrial design with Gothic classicism.

Creating a ‘destination’ atrium with energy-saving features

The breathtaking Brian Lewis Atrium is a four-storey indoor plaza that offers a magnificent introduction to the building, as many key functions collide in a single space. The architecture accounts for seamless spatial dynamics so that students can use the atrium as a meeting hub and working area. It also features open-plan clustered workspaces that house over 60 per cent of the academic body.

Remarkable acoustics are integrated into the building’s design. Natural light floods through an enormous skylight that is supported by a coffered installation of glass and wood, overset by a network of oblique beams.

The ceiling’s jaw-dropping design is marked by 21-metre-long, north-south roof Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) beams that carry the loads. They reduce the embodied energy of the building and offer shading below. The beams also function as an energy-saving system that ventilates the hot air out of the roof and draws fresh air from below the atrium floor.

In addition, the ceiling boasts a wide variety of transparent and solid building materials, finding the right balance between hidden and exposed elements for observation.

Suspended studios challenging construction

Hanging from beams at the western end of the Brian Lewis Atrium are timber-encased, three-floor Hansen Yunken suspended studios. These impressive features are deliberately placed in the ‘heart’ of the building so that the concept of collaboration can also be held up as the heart of all future designs.

Due to the structure’s rare design, construction had to take place bottom up. Four temporary columns were erected to support the structural steel. Because each floor plate is different in shape and size and none of the columns are vertical, it was a serious challenge to align the top of the columns to the supporting beams. Lightweight materials were used for the flooring to reduce the load on the laminated veneer lumber box beams.

Today, the hanging studios are considered as a separate floor area that offers academic space for collaborative discussion and design. The entire area achieves excellent daylight and natural ventilation.

A living, teaching tool

The key to creating a living, learning environment was to design the Melbourne School of Design as an evolving teaching tool. To achieve this, pedagogical features were incorporated to create a transparent learning environment whereby students and staff can observe and interact with the building’s functionality.

Internal structural elements have been left exposed for observation, and water and energy usage can be tracked by data sensors for students to integrate into their research. A window into the basement’s plant room allows the students to observe how the vital organs of a state-of-the-art facility keep the building moving. Raw steel beams and refined perforated timber speak for themselves when students stand below to learn about construction methods and techniques.

The transparent nature of the building also highlights the activities of students and staff to the wider community thereby encouraging peer learning amongst academic peers and the general public to bear witness to research and teaching activities conducted within the field of design.

Green architecture of unprecedented scale

Amongst other innovative green solutions such as LED lighting, up to 750 000 litres of water can be collected from the roof and building exterior and stored in the basement. The water is used for building services such as bathrooms and irrigation.

In a letter of thanks and acknowledgement to Aurecon for its involvement in the project, the University of Melbourne offered two touch points of gratitude. The client noted “Aurecon’s ability to give honest, practical and expert advice on sustainable green building practices”. They also thanked Aurecon for their investment in the students’ journey of learning.


The project has won the following awards:

  • Winner: AIA National Architecture Awards 2015 – Daryl Jackson Award for Educational Architecture
  • Winner: AIA Victorian Chapter Awards 2015 – Marion Mahony Award for Interior Architecture
  • Winner: AIA Victorian Chapter Awards 2015 – Educational Architecture

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