Impressions of the Melbourne School of Design

University of Melbourne's new Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning complex has recently been completed. Under the guise of the Melbourne School of Design, the new John Wardle and NADAAA designed building is located within the heart of the university's Carlton campus fronting Masson Road.

Subject to an international design competition, 133 submissions from 15 countries were initially received for the landmark structure. Six competing firms were subsequently invited to best deliver a design befitting of both the location and brief.

Included within the Melbourne School of Design are research spaces, lecture theatres, a library, exhibition and workshop spaces.

What they say

The architecture, inherent planning, spatial arrangements and configurations, particular programmatic adjacencies and relationships foster a rich, dynamic environment that becomes a point of stimulus, a catalyst for creativity and inventive design research.

With its many inventive structural and environmental ideas, the building becomes a live learning tool for students and staff alike. Connecting back into the network of buildings and courtyards, our design operates as an urban gesture reinforcing the workings and systems of the campus.

The transparent facades and open permeable ground plane reveals the creative and collaborative activities to the rest of the university community.

John Wardle Architects

The competition jury noted the quality of the partnership between Melbourne based John Wardle Architects and Boston based practice Office dA. The Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, Professor Tom Kvan, says their scheme showed a strong understanding of educational, environmental, and social issues in a design that would generate excitement for all staff and students.

The winning design showed a detailed understanding of the teaching and research activities of the Faculty and the potential for contribution to research across the campus.

University of Melbourne
The northern cantilevered volume

On August 8, 2014 the new Melbourne School of Design building was handed over to our Faculty by Brookfield Multiplex. This represented a key milestone in the life of a project which commenced back in 2008 when the University of Melbourne first approved funding for the construction of a new building for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.

The intent was to create a landmark building for the University of Melbourne with world-class facilities for staff and students, and to establish a new standard for design education, research and delivery.

Melbourne School of Design

The new building has also received a 6 Star Green Star Education Design – V1 rating via the Green Building Council of Australia. With a tally of 83 points the Melbourne School of Design is the largest building to strike this rating. According to the University of Melbourne it's their first 6 Star rated building and the only building to ever be awarded all 10 innovation points under the Green Building Council of Australia metric.


This is a building of great contrasts for mine; that it can speak volumes from certain angles and be mute from others is a little puzzling. In a general sense the building looks great when softened by the associated landscaping, yet altogether inhospitable over the eastern facade where the building spills on to an inactive forecourt.

Again the mesh screens look impressive from the northern aspect, but when applied over precast panels it looks more car park than design force. The southern facade evokes little emotion/response - which is a problem in itself - while the overall design I can appreciate but have no great admiration for.

Of course the building is not judged solely on wow factor, as was evidenced by the project winning a citation at this year's Annual Progressive Architecture Awards. Held in New York, Melbourne School of Design was one of only ten buildings to receive the award from 150 entrants. While the internal configuration will be subject to another article, the Melbourne School of Design will be open to the public come the first of December; well worth a visit if you are in a position to do so.

Enjoy the extensive image set of the Melbourne School of Design below, bearing in mind the incorporated historic western facade has yet to be revealed owing to continuing remediation works.

Initial view when arriving from Swanston Street


k_b_arch_3684's picture

I agree, there are pleasing elements....the perforated metal screens look great however the seemingly ad-hoc southern facade and 'bulge'? Elements of merit in their own right but as a composition? I'm unsure..... Would be great to see what it looks like from the inside! I love JWA's work however this one on first look (from the outside at least) leaves me a little disappointed

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@thewholecircle's picture

I find the urban design around the building 'old-style' and disheartening. We can see that it is designed to look good from above and to funnel crowds into the lectures. Planting, seating and view lines are all very linear.

University is about connecting with people - sitting in clusters, in warm sheltered areas, talking about ideas and watching people from all walks of life. The landscaping around the building does not support any of these uses.

I wonder whether this is a reflection of the Graduate School of Design having 'urban design' and 'architecture' disciplines in the same group. To me, architects do not yet make good placemakers...

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James Adams's picture

As a student at the university, I find the building to be a major disappointment. I don't find it architecturally pleasing at all. It has no colour and no life to it. The metal does not mesh well with the historic stone facade at all. I thought it might've grown on me after walking past it for a few weeks, but it hasn't. It's just as ugly now as it was a month ago.

I don't think it'll stand the test of time. Just like a lot of buildings of the 60s and 70s, I reckon it'll be bulldozed in a few decades as an architectural blight. I think it'll only take a few years for people to be up in arms about how dated it is, just like they are now about the even uglier red-brick Redmond Barry building next door.

The university does have some nice modern architectural buildings, especially the Faculty of Business and Economics (the Spot) and the Alan Gilbert Building. But this is a real shame.

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Mark Baljak's picture

Neglected to add this but are there any buildings that look OK with aluminium window trim? That aspect of MSD annoys immensely, cheapens the finish.

Powder coating people, powder coating!

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Bilby's picture

Agree that aluminium windows generally look pretty bad, but are you suggesting that powder coating is a better looking finish that anodised aluminium, Mark?

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Mark Baljak's picture

Horses for courses really, but given the less than premium external finishes on MSD either would be an improvement

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Development & Planning

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:00
The swirl of development activity in Footscray has found another gear as new projects are submitted for approval, or are on the verge of beginning construction. Two separate planning applications have been advertised by Maribyrnong City Council; their subsequent addition to the Urban Melbourne Project Database has seen the overall number of apartment developments within Footscray in development swell to 40.

Policy, Culture & Opinion

Monday, November 20, 2017 - 12:00
The marriage of old and new can be a difficult process, particularly when the existing structure has intrinsic heritage value. In previous times Fitzroy's 237 Napier Street served as the home of furniture manufacturer C.F. Rojo and Sons. Taking root during 1887, Christobel Rojo oversaw operations though over time the site would become home to furniture manufacturer Thonet.

Visual Melbourne

Friday, August 25, 2017 - 07:00
The former site of John Batman's home, Batman's Hill is entering the final stages of its redevelopment. Collins Square's final tower has begun its skyward ascent, as has Lendlease's Melbourne Quarter Commercial and Residential precinct already. Melbourne Quarter's first stage is at construction and involves a new 12-storey home for consultancy firm Arup along with a skypark.


Transport & Design

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 12:00
When a site spans 19,280 square metres, it becomes a 'district'. That's the case according to the development team behind the Jam Factory's pending overhaul. Reporting on the project to date has focused on the close to 60,000 square metres of new commercial space that is earmarked for the site, but more importantly from a layperson's perspective is the extensive new public realm that is planned as part of the development.

Sustainability & Environment

Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 12:00
Cbus Property's office development for Medibank at 720 Bourke Street in Docklands recently became the first Australian existing property to receive a WELL Certification, Gold Shell and Core rating. The WELL rating goes beyond sustainable building features with a greater focus on the health and well-being of a building's occupants.