by Jerry ElengicalOct 05, 2021
Clad in panelled zinc, the coiled exterior of the new Deakin Law School Building is among the latest sights welcoming students back to Deakin University’s Burwood Campus in Melbourne, Australia. Designed by Australian architecture firm Woods Bagot, the structure is a sculptural addition to the university’s grounds, housing flexible learning spaces that defy the norms of conventional institutional design. Bordering the undulating volumes of this wing, a resolute rectilinear edifice dressed in curved, fluted panels of concrete provides a fitting counterpoint that halts the motion of the building’s adjoining section and balances the overall composition. By means of this eye-catching exterior, Deakin University’s new Law School Building embeds itself into the campus’ fabric as an arrival point and landmark for wayfinding - with a conceptual design theme that is described by Woods Bagot principal Sarah Ball in an official release as “intentionally non-institutional”.
Due to the bifurcation of the university grounds into two distinct territories by the Gardiners Creek waterway, the new building’s sloped site along the northwestern edge of the campus was previously disconnected from the remaining assortment of institutional structures spread out through the vicinity. To rectify this, a bridge linking the zone back to the Elgar Road Precinct was completed over the course of the building’s construction, offering a convenient means of navigating the university’s grounds. “With an understanding of the proposed bridge design, we saw this constraint as an opportunity for the building to form a mediation role within the campus, an organisational framework for the public realm, and the existing campus infrastructure,” shares Bruno Mendes, a principal at Woods Bagot and the project’s design lead, in a press statement.
With this in mind, the soaring verticality of the main teaching wing - which also houses the lift and circulation towers - heavily contributes to the strong sense of monumentality that the structure exudes while also effectively shielding it from excessive sunlight. Wrapped in curved concrete panels with periodically interspersed glass slits, the volume captures subtle variations of shadows and reflections throughout the day along the stepped plaza, which follows the natural flow of the inclined terrain. When combined with the spiralling zinc-clad extrusions, a conflict between geometric and organic architectural forms is generated, constituting a vital component of the façade design’s innate dynamism and energy. Mendes explains, “It’s an orchestrated contrast of masses which forms a distinctive vertical landmark within the once-siloed campus. Each mass responds to the site’s sloping landscape, moving students energetically through the space and spiralling upward to frame a different view of the precinct.” Glazed sections punctured into the ends of the curved volumes link interior and exterior.
As the first large general-purpose learning and teaching space developed on the campus in nearly a decade, the building, according to Ball, “exists in a space between civic and education design with an arresting geometry that arose from the innovative blend of learning spaces held within”. To allow students to transition effortlessly between a variety of learning methodologies and mediums, Woods Bagot’s design hosts five levels of adaptable active learning spaces - including technology bars, group pods, and individual study areas that encourage interaction, collaborations, and private study. Blending the informal and formal, the structure’s program seeks to reinvent the principles that govern the design of educational buildings.
In this vein, the fluid geometries of the façade extend to the interior design, with swirling steel and timber-framed staircases that cut through the internal layout. Developed with the aid of intensive stakeholder analysis and engagement to ensure that it meets the campus’ needs for the next 10 years, the building’s spatial programming incorporates a health and wellness centre, gymnasium, café, and student social spaces. The wellness areas occupy two whole levels of the structure, with spaces for students to disengage from their surroundings and indulge in quiet contemplation. On the fifth floor, the winter garden is such a space, perched above the surrounding tree line, with a vertical plant wall and floor-to-ceiling louvres. To complement this on the ground level, the Wellness Garden is an outdoor zone, situated along the space separating the building from the Gardiners Creek Reserve, featuring a deconstructed creek, tiered seating, and native flora.
Redefining the norms of educational architecture and its spatial typologies, the building contains three Premier Learning Spaces (PLS) within the sinuous masses of its zinc-clad wing. Among them is a vast tiered presentation space that doubles as a zone for collaboration when not employed for its primary function. Moreover, a number of the group study spaces have layouts that can be repurposed as informal learning areas - a hallmark of the flexible and progressive spatial organisation. Ball notes, “Each space addresses a different emerging methodology of teaching, doing away with the traditional lecture theatre in the process.”
Warm timber and white plasterboard finishes are utilised throughout the interiors, with polished concrete floors in the main wing and carpet finishes in the Premier Learning Spaces. Merging a restrained palette with fluid lines, the building’s internal ambience is a fitting accompaniment to its visually striking exterior, reflecting Deakin University’s aim to explore evolving pedagogies while serving as a beacon inviting young minds to the campus to explore their horizons.
Name: Deakin Law School Building
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Architects: Woods Bagot
Year of Completion: 2020
Gross Built Area: 18,350 sqm
Program: Architecture and Interior Design
Principal in charge: Sarah Ball
Design principal: Bruno Mendes
Design leader: Jordon Saunders
Project architect: Brad Holt
Project team members: Bolun Chen, Clare Debney, Matt Si, David Ley, Fernanda Eusebio, Stuart Patterson, Jo Dane, Albert Fravel, Caitlin Murray, Kenneth Chou