Monash Student Hub: Open Minds, Open Spaces

Beyond institutions for learning and innovation, universities serve as equally valuable centres for culture and socialisation. In the shared interstitial space between buildings and classes, young minds make formative bonds that shape career trajectories.

Engaging and impactful, Monash University’s new student hub is specifically geared for connection, productivity and informal study. Sitting in the heart of Caulfield campus and originally designed by Denton Corker Marshall, Building K was identified as an ideal site – well positioned to capture foot traffic between the railway station behind and the adjacent campus green, surrounded by established retail and hospitality businesses.

“The new design takes an unused space and really opens it up, to welcome in more students,” says Tuyet-Anh, Project Manager with the Buildings and Property Division at Monash University. “This suited the university’s aims, and makes for a stronger campus community.”

In conversation with the university, DS Architects found opportunities to meaningfully embed the new hub on site, enhancing the student experience through responsive design and planning. With construction budgeted at $3 million, the sensitive refurbishment involved a total remapping of 975 square metres of largely underutilised ground floor in the existing computer science technology building, transformed into a thriving co-curricular space for all students.

Leveraging its close proximity to the common green, students approach the hub through an attractively landscaped urban realm, with concrete benches creating natural gathering points on the timber decking. Two large new doors and the introduction of servery windows at the entrance helps to dissolve the barrier between indoors and out, with casual workstations at each sill overlooking this transient public space. 

“Early on, the hub was projected as more of an internal refurbishment. DS Architects clarified these ideas, suggesting how we might better integrate internal and external space, and get better use out of it,” says Tuyet-Anh. “By the end of the design stage, we were looking at the project as a whole, incorporating the campus master plan.”

Having previously delivered the updated fit out of Level 2 in the same building, including classrooms and an informal student space, DS Architects built on this expertise in maximising functionality and engagement across a deep floorplate. To this end, shared social areas were placed toward the entrance, with a planning room used for co-curricular teaching by the English Connect group, administration areas and upgraded staff offices further within.

A kitchenette and AV equipment support a range of event formats in the student lounge, with space in one corner for a stage and adaptive lighting overhead. Easy flexible use is supported in various ways, with loose furniture enabling multiple seating configurations, credenza doors to one side allowing the hub to be divided into two separate rooms, and ample storage strategically tucked into the floorplan.

DS Architects’ prior work in Building K established guidelines for retaining its original character, using the yellow external features as part of an intuitive wayfinding system. Teamed with vibrant orange and blue, this exuberant palette defines portals and accentuates existing architecture, affirming the university’s visual identity.

“The building has such an expressive design language externally, but inside it was quite conventional,” says Carlee Smith, Associate at DS Architects. “You wouldn’t have been able to tell that you were in such a distinctive piece of architecture, from the inside. So we tried to continue those features, and relate them internally.”

Serendipitously, Carlee was able to draw on lived experience of the campus in developing the architectural response, being an alumni herself.

The project management team held working groups with stakeholders, presenting on a fortnightly basis to ensure individual concerns were heard, and requirements were addressed. The resulting design sought to improve accessibility and connection to neighbouring businesses, to bolster trade and strengthen the campus community going forward. Despite the increased lead times and complexity of construction during covid lockdowns, the collective team of consultants, project management and builders worked in step to ensure all was delivered as projected. An extra level of coordination was required with the university, in order to achieve minimal disruption to students, as well as adjoining departments and businesses, who continued trading throughout the build. 

Demolition was scheduled in consideration of exam times, outside of school hours or on weekends. With construction beginning in September of 2022, and successfully completed by January 2023, the new student hub was up and running in time for Orientation Week.

Now six months on from opening, it is with great satisfaction to all involved that the finished design looks almost identical to the renders. Staff have settled into their new offices, enjoying constant daylight access and use of new consultation and breakout rooms. The hub is used even outside of class hours, to host movie nights, dinners, and even perhaps an upcoming concert in the wings.

“Wherever you walk in there, it’s clear that the space is heavily utilised – it’s full of people studying, socialising and using the facilities round the clock,” says Tuyet-Anh. “It’s a place that contributes so much, not just to the students, but also the staff experience, and culture of the uni overall.”