Grounds for change - The University of Sydney

Grounds for change

15 July 2016

The Nanoscience Hub and the Abercrombie Building are part of a comprehensive building plan that will give the University all it needs to embrace the future while preserving the heritage buildings that make it unique.

A great building is functional and inspirational at the same time. For most graduates of the University of Sydney, the iconic Great Hall is such a building. Completed in 1854, it was the work of English architect, Edmund Blacket, in the style of the Gothic buildings of his homeland.

Many building have been added to the campus since then, but in the late 2000s, it was painfully apparent that there had been little University investment in infrastructure for more than 20 years. “We were behind the eight-ball,” says Campus Planning Manager Juliette Churchill, who has a background in heritage and education architecture. “Other universities around the country had been ensuring their infrastructure kept pace with advances in research and teaching and learning. Many of our buildings were reaching the end of their lifecycles – we had a lot of catching up to do.”

The Nanoscience Hub, part of a new generation of campus buildings.

Now, for the first time in the University’s history, a comprehensive plan has been laid out for cohesive development of the campus: our new seven year Campus Improvement Plan received government approval in February this year.

Before looking forward, let’s rewind a little. In 2009, the New Law Building, with its environmental design principles, was opened; in 2014 we launched the innovative Charles Perkins Centre research and education hub for research into obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and related conditions. In 2015 we opened the Queen Mary Building, transforming the former nurses’ quarters at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital into affordable accommodation for 800 students; and just this year we opened the Abercrombie Business School and the high-tech Sydney Nanoscience Hub.

Let’s reach back just a little further. At the outset of World War Two, the University had just 3500 students. By 1948, student numbers had swelled to 10,779. In response to the desperate shortage of teaching space, the “temporary” Transient Building was erected. Nearly 70 years after its construction, the Transient Building was finally demolished just this year – not for buildings, but to create a permanent green space suitable for outdoor teaching or social events.

Now let’s step right back in time. The Quadrangle sits on the peak of a hill that has been a place of learning for the Cadigal people of the Eora nation for tens of thousands of years.

Acknowledging this, the campus plan is using Wingara Mura Design Principles, which encapsulate both the vision of our founders and the aspirations of our community.

The Transient Building is now green space.

“These design principles ensure that open spaces and buildings are woven together in a culturally responsive way,” Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston says. “We want to use our open spaces not simply for relaxation, but as an integral part of our learning space and our celebrations.”

In transforming the campus for the 21st century and beyond, Campus Infrastructure Services is working closely with local and international architecture firms renowned for people-focused urban planning and for revitalising public spaces. The campus plan has been refined through the University’s collaboration with these firms, again adapting to changing needs.

Preservation is vital to the campus plan. “It’s incredibly important to retain and conserve our heritage buildings,” Churchill says. “Those buildings are what set us apart, and we love them.”

The University has been working with the Heritage Council of NSW to include the entire Camperdown Campus on the state’s Heritage List. Funding has been set aside to ensure the retention, restoration and conservation of our heritage-significant buildings, and already work has taken place on the Madsen, Heydon Lawrence, Edgeworth David, J D Stewart, Badham and Physics buildings. Restoration projects, including facade rectification, are planned for several more.

While buildings are earmarked for demolition, this will only take place where a building has reached the end of its useful existence. The Blackburn and Bosch buildings, for example, will make way for the Susan Wakil Building, which will bring health sciences and education together under one roof.

By contrast, the Macleay Building, internally reconfigured through the years to include laboratories, will be returned to its original use as a museum through a generous donation from Dr Chau Chak Wing. This means the University’s extensive historical and art collections will be accommodated in the one place.

More affordable student accommodation is planned by repurposing local terrace houses, encouraging students to live on campus and enabling a community to grow within the University’s boundaries.

Today, a short walk across the Camperdown Campus takes you from Victorian Gothic revival architecture via tree lined avenues, passing 1920s art deco, 60s functionalism, 80s brutalism, and through to our latest state-of-the-art buildings, the Abercrombie Building; the Charles Perkins Centre and the Sydney Nanoscience Hub, capped off with a telescope that looks like pure science fiction. It is a marvellous patchwork reflecting the University’s past and future.

Written by Justine Bashford

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