|Architecture Australia - September/October 2004 - ACADEMIC COMMUNITY
GATHERING GRIFFIN DETAILS AND ANSWERING THE DOME OF NEWMAN COLLEGE, EDMOND AND CORRIGAN’S ACADEMIC CENTRE ALSO COMPREHENSIVELY ADDRESSES ITS COMPLEX WIDER UNIVERSITY CONTEXT.
REVIEW CONRAD HAMANN PHOTOGRAPHY JOHN GOLLINGS
THIS BUILDING HAS a library at its core, surrounded by tutorial and music rooms,
a lounge and a long balcony. In both its function and its representation it is a link
between the two Catholic Colleges at the University of Melbourne, Newman and
St Mary’s. In its broad massing the new centre answers the proportions and bulk of
Newman College’s Dining Hall and its spired dome, designed by Walter and Marion
Mahony Griffin between 1916 and 1918. Thus it reinforces a diagonal axis hall running
south-west from the Dining Hall. When seen from Carr, Newman’s original north
dormitory, and from the Dining Hall’s courtyard front, the centre’s faceted edge and
subdued colour make it read as almost not there. It is unobtrusive even from Mannix,
the much closer east dormitory. Seen from this angle, the two large gum trees in front
register and reflect light more strongly, and the cement render on the new building links
it to the neighbouring Donovan and Kenny dormitories, built to others’ designs in 1954
and 1958. This allows the centre, in turn, to work as a subdued backdrop to the Chapel
when seen front-on from Swanston Street: its colour values and roof line matching the
backdrop given by the Donovan wing on the Chapel’s north side.
Looking along the south-west axis to the Griffins’
Newman College, with the Dining Hall in the centre.
Edmond and Corrigan’s new Academic Centre,
with the Chapel in the foreground. In its broad massing
the centre answers the Dining Hall, while its siting
reinforces the college’s south-west axis.
Dining Hall at Newman College.
Dining Hall at Newman College.
The vertical space
at the core of the Academic Centre, seen from the
mezzanine reading room.
Entrance facade. The
splaying porch responds to the congregated spires of
the Dining Hall and the rows of pinnacles around the
The vertical space of the choral and tutorial room.
From inside one looks out to the tall, stylized Gothic
The student lounge.
the library’s main reading room with its fixed shelving.
The zigzag edge of the mezzanine reading space is
Looking over the main reading room
from the mezzanine.
The building addresses a diverse context with great
intensity. Split view from the mezzanine over the
university sports grounds and the library reading room.
The main stair seen in the first floor foyer. The
doors to the library are seen to the left and the stair
to the sub basement to the right.
Looking up through the polygonal central void.
In morning light the new centre picks up sunlight and the slowing shadow of the
trees in front, but again is more subdued in this light reflection than the Chapel or, for
that matter, the original wings of Newman College itself. The centre’s modulation in light
reflects a contextual placement in the hierarchy of Newman’s and the surrounding
buildings’ context. It is intended as a far more forceful collegiate presence than Peter
Elliott’s 1994 Principal’s House behind it – the best building in the St Mary’s College
complex. The centre also bears a far greater expressive and symbolic weight than the
Murphy flats to its immediate north, a Newman College addition of the early 1970s.
At the same time, the centre works in concert with the rear extensions of St Mary’s
College. This is no mean feat as St Mary’s earlier buildings, from 1964 into the early
1970s, are hardly monumental either in solidity or concentrated meaning.
Up closer to the centre you can see any number of Griffin details gathering:
terracotta trim on ridges and similar colouration of the decking roofs. A porch splays out
like a crown, answering both the congregated spires on the Dining Hall and the rows of
pinnacles around the Griffin dormitories. In the same way, the angled entry areas and
walling takes up the Griffins’ theme of the angled pier, a crucial motif in their initial
college buildings and a way in which they expressed both growth in the rock and their
buildings’ correspondence with the trees as planned.
Moving closer still, you can see how the new building physically addresses its
eastern contexts by drawing through one visual link after another. There is the duality of
the entry, with facets that read equally, if asymmetrically, toward both Newman and
St Mary’s. The diamond pattern windows on the upper levels answer the diamond and
chevron traceries and vents in Newman and its later wings and the window vents in the
Chapel vestries. You see the reason why the centre reads from Swanston Street as a
screening backdrop behind the Chapel and from the Dining Hall as receding behind the
trees. Its plan is in irregular, zigzagging facets, advancing and retreating by turns, from a
podium that reads, alternately, as solid and void. The “solid” side is most visible at the
St Mary’s end, the hovering side at the Newman end. Up close the building is the
embodiment of tumult and movement, but in its contextual frames it presents specific
episodes, with great precision for the job each has to do. This combination resembles
the pylons and bridge supporting Edmond and Corrigan’s Building 8 at RMIT, but it is
structurally asymmetrical here. In a sense the centre goes one stage further, because it
is truer in its expression of vertical circulation and of programmatic springing points
inside. This can be seen in the charge desk and librarians’ rooms, from where the library
space literally sweeps out. This sense of drive outward – in facets from a collective trunk
of circulation and gathering spaces – recalls Frederick Romberg’s combination of mass
and projection at Stanhill, 1943–51, and the Stuttgart apartments of Hans Scharoun –
both of whom have interested Corrigan for decades. The plan’s cranked, “armadillo” aspect to the south-east, where tutorial, seminar and music rooms splay out in freed
trapezoids, also recalls Corrigan’s early Trinder house project for Corio, of 1965. This
house carryover is appropriate enough. Alex Selenitsch, taking larger Edmond and
Corrigan houses such as Calnin or McCartney as examples, has argued that the
internal politics and coexistences of a house give it an institutional demeanour like any
other building. The sheer verticality of the new centre is initially startling, though –
given that earlier buildings by Edmond and Corrigan, Keysborough in particular, were
emphatically horizontal. Arguably, this reflects the centre’s origins in sketches for a
clustered tower, and it also allows the centre to read as light and hovering, or heavy
and bearing down, when viewed from one compositional bay or episode to the next.
This heightens the sense of the building’s physique, in turn complementing the sense
of facial or anthropomorphic expression that has always been present, even in the
placement and detailing of a single Edmond and Corrigan window.
In plan, the central library is ringed at each level by tutorial, music and service
rooms, offices, a lounge and even an eyrie “poet’s room”. This repeats the Griffins’
clustering of anterooms, Lady Chapel, rector’s and priests’ rooms and service areas in
a democratic circle round the 1918 dining room. The new plan’s generation, however,
is quite different, as it emerges from a gomon-like concept plan with stubby arms and
concentric spatial organization. The gomon plan – in concept and in final form – was
a natural conversion of the early sketches. In the design’s evolution, the building turned
from being a refuge-library to giving image to the community life of students around
and inside the library. Externally the centre, as you read it by episode, remains in part a
refuge tower, a moat and bailey, from the west and at a distance from the Chapel side
approach. But suddenly the form breaks open on the north and north-east, showing its
internal life and the whirl of student movement envisaged for it. A balcony spins out
from the student lounge, sweeping round over the car park, cutting through the general
sense of mass, before changing into the complex essay that is the western escape
stair. Here again this is something that can be seen at Edmond and Corrigan’s Drama
Centre for the Victorian College of the Arts, finished in early 2003. There the building
literally invited the student community onto its external decking, with chairs and drinks
hauled out, in both a promenade and a serried watching of the collegiate spectacle
outside. In doing likewise, the Academic Centre returns to the early grandstand and
sports pavilion forms of Keysborough, Box Hill and Sale, and to the image of the
populated building whose users become participants – not just in the architecture as
spatial experience but in the architectural form itself.
The library is double-height, with the upper level bisected by a zigzag-edged
reading space that works like a bridge. It closes the circle of a polygonal upper space
over the charge desk and reference section, which resembles the Dining Hall dome and
its looping sequence of solid-walled balconies. The reading room has a similarly
teeming feel, and this is heightened by Edmond and Corrigan’s placement of fixed
library shelves, which act as island solids through which space flows. The sense is
rather like that of H. H. Richardson’s spatiality, though the sense of a landscape of
books, and of the white, air-like spaces above, is a synthesis of Asplund’s classicism at
the Stockholm library, and Aalto’s internal terrain – as at the Wolfsburg library. It also
extends Edmond and Corrigan’s use of fixed timber library furniture, in creating both a
sense of occasion and richness. This can be seen in RMIT’s Central Library at the point
where the repeated stacks of its older Casey Wing precinct run through into Edmond
and Corrigan’s Building 8.
In the new centre the librarians had to arrange the two colleges’ combined
collection: between 80,000 and 110,000 books (no-one knows the exact figure).
The planned juxtapositions of disciplines bring students from different disciplines into
contact: theology is across a narrow aisle from economics. Corporate law is next to
poetry. Medicine is next to art and architecture. The main computer room looks in on this
reading room, literally, projecting out into it with a glass bay. Visually linked to the library,
it is still kept separate from the library’s spatial role as a store of printed books –
everyone was determined this library was not going to become just a contemporary
information retrieval depot. The computer space is unusual in itself, having a tall ceiling
that is familiar from older university buildings, but which is unexpected in the minimal
spaces of modern computer labs. Indeed this vertical generosity, grand and solemn at
once, is part of the centre’s verticality and stems from the early concepts of a
library-tower. This verticality gives the reading room its sense of occasion – so rare in
modern libraries, generally impoverished by their technocratic expression of volumetric
efficiency. The same is true of the two flanking choir and ensemble rooms which, inside,
link visually with the tall, stylized Gothic of the Chapel through the windows. The main
lounge, similarly tall, seems to acknowledge the flow, visual and implied, of student life
through the room and out onto the long balcony.
Even here we are reminded of the sheer diversity of the context and of the intensity
with which this building addresses it. Not only are the Griffins referred to; so too is W. B.
Connolly, with Payne and Dale in the 1939 Chapel. St Mary’s College, opened in 1964,
is in almost a designer-builder’s vernacular with a Baroque “hop” over the front door. It
left no room for the Griffins’ idea of a mirror-image of Newman as completed. In their
original design the library and its surrounding tutorial rooms were to be housed in a
dome externally matched to the Dining Hall. In a sense the new centre recalls that
unbuilt dome but expresses context as a wider and more complex mix. Part of the
centre’s sheer force on its north and west elevations is a response to the visual force of
its neighbours: the bulk of the gymnasium, c. 1970–94; the heavy-scaled towers of
Protestant colleges to the north and west; the university’s central campus as a cream
brick forest of tower-slabs; and the convergent theatre of the central sports arena. All
this is taken on board, and yet reconciled with the difficult plurality of the Centre’s
proposed interior life, expressed in the way its spaces and forms are shaped. For the
Centre has about it that sense of an expanded community dwelling, where students can
literally circulate, moving round the library level to talk to or make contact with friends.
As the manager observes, the action of library discussion can flow out easily into
flanking tutorial rooms. The ring of tutorial and music rooms on the fourth floor, smaller
like attic spaces, can buzz constantly – spatially linked yet acoustically protected from
the library immediately through the central void below.
Designing this centre brought particular difficulties. Much has been built since the
original Newman buildings were constructed, and the Griffins still cast their long
shadow. Edmond and Corrigan’s new building rises to this challenge, responding to the
original design and the buildings surrounding it and bringing to bear a use of space and
flow that is remarkable and new in such a building. All this is directed to a principal aim:
that the centre carry in its form the sense and image of community, read from both
outside and in, and from a whole series of perspectives.
CONRAD HAMANN IS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY AT THE SCHOOL OF LITERARY, VISUAL AND PERFORMANCE STUDIES, MONASH UNIVERSITY.
ACADEMIC CENTRE FOR NEWMAN COLLEGE AND ST MARY’S COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE
Architect Edmond and Corrigan—project team Peter
Corrigan, Maggie Edmond, John Karick, Adrian Page,
Raymond Ng, Michael Taylor, Simon LeNepveu, Anna Little,
Cyril Yu, Julia Jang, Zlatko Basic, Alan Kueh, Jon Yong.
Structural and civil engineer Meinhardt (Vic). Building
services engineer Meinhardt (Vic). Landscape architect
EDAW (Aust). Acoustic consultant Marshall Day Acoustics.
Quantity surveyor Westbay Consulting Services. Building
surveyor Thomas Nicolas. Fire safety and risk
engineering Bruce Thomas and Associates. Heritage
consultant Bryce Rayworth. Disability consultant Morris Walker Consultants.
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