New RMIT building
New RMIT hub building on the left and remnants of the CUB site in Swanston Street in Carlton. Photo: Craig Abraham
FROM a rubble-strewn construction site on Swanston Street, one of Melbourne’s most innovative buildings rises above the street clamour like a grey, linear iceberg.
At first, to stand next to it is to feel dwarfed – no windows, lintels, eaves or other such architectural frippery interrupt the vast sweep of its walls.
But a closer inspection reveals that the ”skin” of RMIT’s new Design Hub building is stippled, made from translucent, sandblasted glass discs.
Vice-chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner says this will make it a ”glorious, gleaming, transparent, sequinned building” that cements Melbourne’s reputation as a centre of design.
These glass discs contribute to the building’s green cred – controlled by computer, they swivel in response to the sun and weather conditions and offer occupants a view of the city or a breath of fresh air.
And, as technology evolves, the university hopes some discs could be replaced with solar cells that could power the whole building, or mini screens that would enable films to be played on its walls.
The brainchild of esteemed architect Sean Godsell, RMIT’s $60 million-plus building will be the largest design-based building in Australia.
It will house ”transdisciplinary” teams of university design experts – from architecture to aerospace industries – who will work cheek-by-jowl in research or postgraduate work in a unique setting.
When RMIT sold off the rest of the old Carlton United Breweries site in 2005 to developer Grocon, it decided to keep the land on the corner of Victoria and Swanston streets and devote it to ”something that spoke to Melbourne and about Melbourne … and the thing that had to be was design,” Professor Gardner said.
It will sit alongside a number of other innovative buildings from Grocon, including Australia’s first carbon-neutral office building, Australia’s first wooden high-rise apartment building and an apartment tower etched with a 100-metre facade of indigenous leader William Barak.
The university also says the Design Hub will transform the traditional research space.
Gone are the individual small rooms and laboratories; instead, big, open warehouse-style floors with sliding walls and kit furniture will allow researchers to form and re-form their spaces and hang large projects or plans from the roof or walls.
Professor Daine Alcorn, the deputy vice-chancellor of research and innovation, said this approach would allow academic cross-pollination.
”The reason why this transdisciplinary approach is really important is that to answer the big questions you need a scientific point of view, a sociological point of view and economic point of view, for example,” Professor Alcorn said. ”This building brings all of these into the equation.”
The outside of the building is largely complete but work continues on the interior.
Completion is set for the end of the year.
Architect Sean Godsell is probably best known for his award-winning Kew and Peninsula houses, his controversial design for a park bench that converts into a homeless shelter and for ”Future Shack”, a cabin constructed of a shipping container to house returning refugees.
Mr Godsell declined to talk about the Design Hub, his first major building, until it was complete but Professor Alcorn said he was on site most days to oversee its construction, particularly the external skin.
The Design Hub will sit alongside Grocon’s Swanston Square redevelopment, which will include a new public square.