For & Against: The Architecture Building

Thursday, 25 September, 2014

Architecture, Building and Planning students have a new home. But does the Melbourne School of Design meet their expectations?


Words by Kyle Hui

The architects of the new ABP building would say—in their typical architectural jargon, the type they teach us to say at presentations—that the strategic and extensive use of the perforated sun shading device will be able to provide a sustainable and cost effective controlled climate within. They’d say it produces a unique and poetic juxtaposition to the immediate surrounding site context, which further highlights the physical nature of the university as a truly dynamic, modern, world class learning environment.

They might also add that the mammoth engineering task involved with the design of the building is accentuated in the three-storey cantilevered protrusion along the north-façade, as well as in the unique suspended teaching spaces within the atrium.

But don’t let the fact that it’s all archi-speak turn you off. All those points are true. Despite the solar shading panels having a likeness to the scaly symptoms of an eczema victim, they are top-class sustainable architectural devices in action. In the height of a ridiculous Melbourne summer, these panels will help reduce the need of air conditioning by blocking heat from entering the premise. They’ll keep things cool, plus meet energy reduction targets the university has set.

Furthermore, in stark contrast to its predecessor, this new building is actually architecturally ‘interesting’. From the random arrangement of the windows to the weird curvy glass skirt thing, it is testament to the weird and wonderful world of design we live in.

The building also contains three new state-of-the-art theatres (two smaller ones and a third one as large as the Copland and Old Arts PLT). That’s a good incentive for you to attend your 9am lectures.

Finally, for the occupants-to-be, the building couldn’t have come any sooner. The old building had hardly any merits worthy of remembrance. As for our current home in the brutal 757 building, the hanging live wires and delightful male toilets will be nothing but a distant memory when we laugh in our naturally cooled, large atriumed, cantilevered, Castro’s-adjacent building we so deserve.


Words by Robert Snelling

Ah, the new architecture building, that speckled white cube that already looks 10 years old. I can’t help but think: Will this age well? Or will it just become another Raymond Priestly? You know, a building that looks “cool” (if that) for about two minutes, then just looks like any other building being ‘random for the sake of being random’.

When I look at the building, I get the overall impression that the architects went a little crazy with its design. They were probably given the brief to create a modern building for architecture students. It’s as if they said: “Let’s mish-mash as many different forms of architecture as we can into a single building, because, well, its an architecture building, and therefore it needs to be as architectural as possible.”

As a result, together the elements lack cohesion and consistency. I mean, that south façade, you know, the one that looks like a piece of braille for a giant—why? What purpose is there for having randomly arranged windows? I just wonder who thought it was a good idea to have windows for your feet. But then there’s the wavy wall underneath it, which really does not visually connect to the braille. Sure it looks “cool” (which it does, and is the one redeeming feature of the building), but it bears no relation to the rest of the building.

Then there’s the heritage listed façade integration of the old stone front with that metal mesh. There is no sense of connection between the old and the new. These kinds of integrations are the hardest to do and require thorough planning. But here it feels like just an afterthought. I mean, that metal mesh honestly makes the building look like a constraining prison. I know it helps reduce the building’s electricity consumption so it could get a seven star environmental rating. But surely spending 120 million dollars on the production of materials would be more of an environmental impact than the electricity it saves.

The atrium on the inside consists of this wire mesh (like ones found on tennis courts). It covers the entire height of the atrium, instead of a conventional handrail. At first, I thought it was just temporary, but on closer inspection it looks very deliberate. In fact, it looks like a net to stop people from leaving the building. I know from experience that architecture is one of the most time-intensive and subjective majors at uni. To be honest, I think the last thing architecture students would want is to feel trapped and imprisoned.

Well, I guess if architecture starts getting too stressful or you hate the building that much, you can relax on those benches to the north of it. They are as well thought out as the rest of the building—lacking sun and next to a rattling air vent. How ingenious.

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