Situated in the heart of Melbourne, RMIT University’s $220 million refurbishment of its city campus has transformed five floors across four existing buildings into a revitalised student hub.
With the first of the buildings constructed in the 1970s, the New Academic Street redevelopment has integrated a new major entry point for the university, as well as a variety of arcades and laneways to open up large sections of the existing façade. In keeping with Melbourne’s laneway culture, these arteries provide clear way-finding and urban experiences, and enable greater connectivity to the rest of the campus and with Melbourne’s CBD.
Harnessing digital technology to create a state-of-the-art learning environment
The redevelopment provides a future-ready campus with a new student services hub, called ‘RMIT Connect’, new retail zones, an expanded student library, outdoor spaces, and a new media precinct. The integration of state-of-the-art digital technology was a key objective for the university, transforming the student experience in response to students’ changing needs. Developing new information technology infrastructure and audio-visual strategies was pivotal to the university’s aspirations fora new paradigm in the delivery of student services to the growing student cohort of ‘digital natives’. The infrastructure and equipment provided in the university’s ‘Media Precinct’ responds to a highly technical brief, and allows students to learn in an environment that is equivalent to or leads the industry where they will seek employment. Within the student services hub, interaction between staff and students and the service model is delivered very differently from the traditional model. Self-service and staff-assisted delivery of student services is delivered in combination. For staff-assisted modes, the use of touchscreen technology and a cloud-based queueing system has been instrumental in reducing wait times and queues.
Smart and sustainable design to underpin innovation
The application of environmentally sustainable design strategies ensures a comfortable internal environment to support formal and informal learning, using both natural and mechanical ventilation schemes so that more favourable outdoor weather conditions can permeate the building. Once impermeable façades, they are now opened up resulting in a blurring of the outdoor and indoor environments. Occupant comfort is monitored using sensors and actuators, and is enhanced in winter and summer using ceiling fans and gas heaters. A range of other sustainability initiatives — including thermal heat recovery and ‘green lease’ initiatives for the onsite retailers — will all contribute towards the university’s sustainability aspirations and its goal of project innovation. A brand new, four-storey Garden Building and Terrace has been integrated into the campus, creating additional social spaces for staff and students. Built using timber, the building is characterised by the widespread use of greenery and open garden space to enhance the urban environment.
Staged construction supports seamless student experience
This project represents one of the largest and most-challenging refurbishments of its type. Infrastructure upgrades were completed in stages to ensure the university could continue its operations and maintain services to students and staff — all while ensuring the design did not compromise surrounding buildings. Much of the buildings’ infrastructure had to remain live and operational as it supported the non-refurbishment zones as well. Creating the appropriate design required having a comprehensive understanding of existing installed services, carried out through survey work and contractor tests, to inform the design and reduce construction as well as business continuity risk. The final project was delivered through three main stages, and seven sub-stages, of work.
AECOM provided mechanical, electrical and fire engineering, environmentally sustainable design, vertical transportation, audio visual and acoustics consultancy. As part of this, AECOM worked closely with an architectural consortium led by Lyons Architecture, and which also included NMBW, Maddison, MvS, and Harrison and White. Each architect brought their own architectural style to the project, to realise the vision of the project to have a diversity of spaces to enhance the student experience.