by Luke Johnson, Daniel Stanning and Eric Lee
Restoring the sense of the ‘beating heart’, the Central Courtyard Precinct is the most comprehensive redevelopment project at Macquarie University in decades.
The revitalised Central Courtyard precinct reshapes the University’s identity by introducing elements of successful urban design – streets, grassed and paved courtyards, and places for people to comfortably inhabit. As the Central Courtyard embodies much of the collective cultural memory from the University’s formative origins, the project’s true purpose was to restore the sense of the ‘beating heart’ on the campus, to elevate it to being among the greatest. This was achieved through two new major facilities that re-establish teaching and learning in this precinct, bringing activation through students’ movements – the Central Courtyard itself and 1 Central Courtyard, a vibrant four-storey building for teaching, learning and events.
Originally designed along a linear corridor called Wally’s Walk, the Central Courtyard was the University’s gravitational centre with three key buildings: the university executive, student services and the library. In 2011, when the existing library building was developed about half a kilometre away, students were transferred away from the Central Courtyard. Although the area hosted food services and administration, it lacked the knowledge piece that is crucial to a tertiary institution.
The Courtyard itself was previously inhospitable, with Queensland gums that routinely shed their branches. Although it had beautiful characteristics previously, it was very singular in its experience, and it did not provide the diversity of activities required of a contemporary university. The landscape change – undertaken by Aspect Studios – was instrumental in reimagining what the civic centre of a university campus could be. The regenerated area is shifting the pendulum back to the space being a vibrant community. It has undergone a major transformation to make it more human-centric and friendly.
Located in a cluster with MAZE, the Lincoln Building, and the Student Accommodation Buildings, 1 Central Courtyard (The Hub) stands overlooking the reimagined Courtyard that brings life to the Central Courtyard precinct.
When approaching the design of this critical building, which has created 24 brand new teaching and learning spaces for Macquarie University, Architectus interrogated the intended purpose of the space as a hub that flows people around the campus. It was specifically designed to visually connect the newly landscaped courtyard with the natural bushland that stretches behind the building beyond the campus. With the glass walls of the ground floor, the top two floors – vibrant teaching and learning spaces – appear to float. Internal voids connect the ground floor with the two upper floors, so there is an awareness of activity throughout the building. The floor below ground is a purpose-built graduation hall which feels like a series of events, starting on the procession steps with a water feature and opening to the landscape beyond. Visual connections through the building’s interior foster a dynamic sense of connection to space and between the people occupying it.
The inside and outside spaces blend seamlessly through the clever use of natural light which spreads across the large floor plate, giving it a wonderful energy. Multiple food and beverage tenancies are accessed directly from the Central Courtyard and a north-facing terrace with generous height overlooks the lush natural landscape beyond. Horizontally, the building connects to the landscape, and vertically it connects through the senses: aromas of foods and white noise of people in the spaces.
The teaching and learning spaces are designed with innovation and teamwork in mind. In consultation with academics and students, Architectus worked extensively with Macquarie University to co-create six new modalities – lounge, collaboration, nodal, flexible, project, workplace – that are fully adaptable across spaces that range in sizes to accommodate 30-, 60- and 90-person groups which connects directly back to the principles of the University’s master plan goals.
Each space is equipped with one of three types of operable whiteboards that swing, hang, or slide and can be folded away to provide a partially enclosed workspace or reveal large display screens. Varied seating configurations and a blending of atmospheres provides different spaces for activity-based learning. Lounge suites encourage relaxing discussions. Raised chairs and height-adjustable tables at the back of the rooms increase visibility. Hospitality chairs conjures a café, where students enjoy spending their time. Workstations that mimic an office environment helps industry engagement to prepare the students for their future careers.
Much of the furniture is modular. Tables are fitted with slots to house whiteboards that can be used on the table or the wall. To allow for the flexibility of the kit-of-parts, the teaching and learning spaces are larger than a standard classroom, with carpet inlays guiding the furniture set-ups encouraging students to move any given room’s layout to suit their purpose. There are no fixed lecterns, instead the Teacher’s Point provides integrated equipment to deliver classes with pre-programmed options of how the blinds, lighting and audio-visual equipment are set up to provide the sensory experience to best suit the lesson. Each program matches with a furniture layout to make the rooms fully adaptable to the task, be it group discussion, didactic teaching, or presenting audio-visual materials.
The ‘active threshold’ is a defining architectural element of the building’s two upper floors. Using the external wall of the classrooms, it is designed to blur the line between the formal classrooms and informal student spaces to accommodate a continuous flow of learning. With a variety of places to sit and work or collaborate, and plants to decorate the space, it is comfortable.
Because students are diverse, no one design solution fits all needs. The two upper levels deliver a range of informal spaces – or ‘outer clusters’ – of options that embrace unexpected designs. The spaces differ in atmosphere, look and feel. There is a soft loungeroom, and an interactive zone with fixed cave-like spaces to work. One room looks like a contemporary open plan workplace. To counteract the building’s vibrancy, some clusters are more muted. All areas are suited to study but do not function like a traditional library, where silence is expected. These modern spaces give students the opportunity plug their devices in, talk among themselves, eat and be comfortable.
1 Central Courtyard is a large building that is bustling with people and activity. It provides high-tech spaces for classes but also provides comfortable and contemporary spaces for students to just ‘be’ – work, socialise, create, and enjoy a vibrant campus experience. Upon opening, the building was being used by students from different universities in Sydney, showing that word-of-mouth had created a buzz for this fresh and innovative new building.