Swinburne University of Technology Hawthorn campus, Victoria, Australia

‘The George’ is a dynamic project that marks a very special point for our practice.

It was our first major new building project, repositioning Swinburne University’s main campus into the globally leading, high-performing education institution it is recognised as today.

The building is a very long way from how it looked ten years ago: a grey, drab and stolid existing campus centred by a cluster of uninspiring portables. The portables were on our design site in the middle of the campus, and woefully inadequate to support growing student enrolments.

Our response created a new seven-storey building overlooking the main internal courtyard. It gives back more than 3000sq m of new floor space for student amenity, with all essential services under one roof, and meets the diverse accommodation needs of all users.

The building comprises:

  • Levels 1 and 2: Student services and lounges
  • Level 3: Muslim prayer room
  • Level 4: Student health services clinic
  • Level 5: Main university data centre, and;
  • Levels 6 and 7: Office space for the university IT department.

But our concept goes beyond simply servicing students. Through design, we challenged typical university convention at the time by critically thinking about how to broaden the building’s impact.

This is expressed in a clever ‘walk through’ design. The ground floor is integrated into its surroundings by a mix of pathways for visitors to walk through on their way to somewhere else. For example, one path leads from Glenferrie train station to and through the building to the central courtyard, while another cuts through the front third of the building and through the student services spaces.

© Michelle Williams Photography

As a central hub, the facility sparks unexpected interactions by creating different ways of moving through campus space – a different concept for the education industry at the time. Paved in bluestone and with glass tilt-up doors akin to a fire station, the ground floor appears to extend into the landscape and open up to the surrounding courtyard.

Inside, each floor tells a different story through the nature of its use. The most obvious detail is ‘the skirt’; a second skin of blue glazing and red perforated panels in front of the façade rising from levels one to three. As well as adding a bold element to the building, it’s highly functional providing a buffer between busy campus life and the quieter spaces within it.

Levels one to three are also connected by a bold, sculptural staircase positioned to the façade, protected by ‘the skirt’. The stair draws the activity of a typically internal space outside, activating the building with people moving up and down throughout the day.

The fourth level features the same red and blue glass perforated panelling as the lower levels, but no skirt, and contrasts with the fifth level, with solid concrete panels. Large windows at the top of the facility service the two-level IT department, subtly screened with horizontal louvres and views onto the courtyard and distant parks.

For the first time, Swinburne University owns a central, visual focus and a branded identity. It brings students, teachers and the broader community together in new and exciting ways that previously did not exist.

As a result, the building lifted the campus so significantly, the university named it the George Swinburne Building, in honour of the original founder of the university. 

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