Deakin University, Burwood Campus, Melbourne

DS Architects were engaged to convert an existing three-storey building at the university’s primary campus in Burwood, Melbourne into a new science precinct for the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Faculty of Arts and Education.

The initial brief was to create new ‘mega’ laboratories to support DU’s growing science enrolments. However, once the proposed accommodation requirements were considered in detail it was established that the required spaces could not be accommodated within the available space. DSA then undertook a feasibility study to determine how the required spaces could be accommodated. We looked at a number of solutions including:

  • Relocation of major mechanical plant to free up floor space.
  • External lifts to free up floor space.
  • External walkways to move circulation out of the building.
  • External toilet block to free up floor space.
  • Enclosing adjacent open courtyard to create an atrium to free up floor space by moving mechanical plant, lifts and toilets out of the existing building.

It was the last option, the development of the internal atrium, which  enabled a design that would allow for the large teaching laboratories that can comfortably hold large groups of up to 80 students. Substantial fire engineering was required to enable the development of the existing external courtyard into an internal atrium, with the facades of Buildings N and G being fire separated and sprinkler protected from the new atrium. The design team worked closely with the Melbourne Fire Brigade and Melbourne Water to ensure compliance resulting in the upgrade of the campus ring main.

As part of the redevelopment, our team worked with Deakin to scope out the following spaces:

  • Chemistry, Physiology, Biology, Science (2), PC2 Labs and associated prep rooms
  • Laboratory staff accommodation
  • A new internal atrium between Buildings M, N and G to house informal student spaces, student amenities and circulation to laboratories.

Repurposing this existing building came with its own set of challenges including asbestos and hazardous material removal, limited floor-to-floor space that was not designed to accommodate heating and cooling, and a structural design that results in columns running down the middle of the building. In particular, the restricted heights of the existing building required considered design of ceilings and coordination of services to ensure good ceiling heights were maintained through the laboratories. Existing services plant rooms, located in the middle of Building M on each floor needed to remain in situ, requiring the laboratories to be planned around these zones, while maintaining access to the plant rooms.

Audio visual installations were an important consideration within the laboratories, to not only deliver the curriculum and collaboration required, but also to ensure good sightlines for all students, due to the existing structural impediments and the large laboratory sizes.

The building works were procured via an invited tender process and ADCO were appointed as the Contractor via a lump sum contract. Construction works commenced in 2015 and with classes continuing to run the building works were done in stages to minimise disruption and ensure classes could continue. The first stage of works concentrated on constructing the new atrium roof and laboratories on the top level of Building M. The second stage, which started in 2016, involved the fitout of the atrium and the construction of the remaining laboratories on the lower two levels.

To meet the brief to create inviting and contemporary learning spaces we adopted materials sourced both locally and from abroad, meaning long lead times needed to be considered to keep the project on schedule.

  • Bolon, made in Sweden is a textured lining made from textile waste. We used is as a feature wall lining to identify utility areas and provide durable wall linings in areas of high pedestrian traffic.
  • Laminex Chemical Grade Compact Laminate benchtops were used throughout the laboratories.
  • Tarkett Tapiflex, made in France, is a heterogeneous vinyl flooring with a geometric pattern that was selected in lieu of traditional homogeneous vinyl flooring to give the laboratories a more contemporary aesthetic.
  • Rodeca coloured polycarbonate translucent sheets, which are made in Germany, were used on the internal façades to give each level of the building their own identity to help with wayfinding.
  • In areas of direct sunlight, the use of Eveneer timber veneer, required the development of a new type of glue to minimise warping and unbinding in adverse heat conditions.


The result is a functional, modern, built-for-purpose facility delivered within budget and six weeks ahead of schedule. The glass atrium roof allows natural light into the center of the precinct , while the large teaching laboratories have improved the efficiency of course delivery.

The project was lead at all stages by DS Architects as Principal Consultant.

Design Team


Photography by Michelle Williams