University architecture has for at least the past thirty years been intentionally interesting, I know I personally have for a long time felt that some of the best public architecture exists within and around universities, as does some really well thought out public space and it has to be this way. Universities are world schools, they not only have to vie for their place and stand out amongst other local campuses but they have to vie for the attention of students from all over the world. One of the best ways to do this on the face of it are to provide spaces and architecture in which people find exciting and want to spend time both in and around. So commissioning the best architects to come up with future proof, sustainable and functional designs when a new building is required is almost entirely essential as these buildings need to not only provide a useable and changeable space for the requirements of the university in day to day goings on both now and in decades to come, but also provide an impression of the university’s aspirations towards the future of learning in a modern society. It isn’t only the main buildings however, every aspect of space has to be thought out enough to provide a free flowing system of open ground within the campus as well, extending to include pavilions, seating, pathways and other facilities that are required to ensure both the comfort and wellbeing of students and teachers alike.
The architectural styles primarily used in university and civic architecture in general have evolved throughout the last thirty years but have fundamentally remained post modern in design. Some of these mid to late nineties buildings today still look as if they could have been designed yesterday but in actuality are close to thirty years in age or older. The 1990s saw the shift from the previous concrete and brick brutalist style of the seventies and eighties to the post modern ‘computer generated’ decorative era of civic architecture which we associate with educational futurism. Pops of colour and glass, stacked blocks and irregular shapes make up the architectural forms, surrounded by organically formed landscaping, often planted with local natives. The use of coloured accents in facades and foyers provide a form of visual interest in a mostly non-functional adornment. A developing architectural trend in recent decades is a move to a modern day take on mid-century ideologies of the self sustainable building but to implement these ideas with the latest technology.
In 2019 Monash University commisioned ARM Architects to design and build the new Chancellery building at their Clayton campus to replace the dated brutalist office block which was in use prior. In keeping with Monash’s Masterplan for the sustainability and future proof values of their campuses it was necessary that the new building stood in line with these requirements. The new Chancellery is capable of having net zero carbon emissions and stands on the five principles of the Passivehaus Association. Being that the building has no gas connection it relies on thermal insulation with the thermal plant being entirely electric, supplied with energy by solar panels on the roof. The facade is wrapped in glass but protected from the elements by a screen of steel modules which wrap around the upper four floors of the Chancellery in a light and flowing manner, allowing sunlight to diffuse into the building without the issues of heat pockets caused by direct sun. Additional light and air is filtered internally from a clerestory on the roof allowing light to flood the space indirectly through to the ground floor via a pair of organically shaped ‘cut-outs’ creating an open void through each individual floor of the building. Externally the Chancellery connects itself to the rest of the university via a covered walkway which wraps around one side of the building with columns created by individual artists in collaboration with the Monash University Museum of Art. The Chancellery is an extraordinary example of what Civic architecture can be and proof that we have the ability to create ourselves beautiful, functional and future proof spaces, not only within university’s but across all forms of public buildings.