By Christopher Moore
Sitting atop a prominent hill in the Perth suburb of Joondalup, Australia, this university facility, designed by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (fjmt), in collaboration with Hassell as associate architect, peeks above the treetops like a crown. Inspired by the native xanthorrhoea plant, a grass tree common in Perth, these four buildings house the school of business, the vice chancellor's offices, and the administrative center for Edith Cowan University's Joondalup campus.
One of the most remote cities on Earth, Perth sits on the far western coast of Australia. The nearest city of significant population is a 28-hour drive east. Richard Francis-Jones, fjmt's design director, believes this geographic isolation didn't directly impact his firm's design, but did give it a freedom rarely experienced in its projects on Australia's east coast. "This really is a frontier site. The work we normally do is within a tight urban context where the overriding consideration is dealing with the surrounding built environment. Here, though not a completely natural, rural site, we had the opportunity to expand further on our vision."
Edith Cowan was instrumental in women obtaining the vote in Australia, and she appears on the Australian $50 bill. She established a school to train teachers in Perth in 1902, and the university that grew out of the original site of the school is now the second largest in Western Australia. Consisting of three metropolitan campuses and one rural campus, it has more than 23,000 students enrolled.
Contributing to the youngest of the four campuses, this 150,000-square-foot complex consists of two triangular volumes that form a public plaza, with a third linear complex consisting of two buildings. The signature of the project is its striking use of timber spines that fan upward from nearly horizontal to fully vertical at their apex. Built from jarrah, an Australian hardwood that is beautifully grained, rich in color, hardy, and resilient, the struts fan upward and outward, giving the design a sense of majesty. On one side, this curving form frames the vista of a nearby lake and spacious green lawn; on the other side, it opens wide in a welcoming gesture to the main arterial road into the city. "This is a city with a lot of growing to do," Francis-Jones explains. "We wanted to create a sense of aspiration in the design for the staff and students of the university, as well as an urban landmark for the city."
Francis-Jones acknowledges that part of the program for the site was to create a project that would anchor the university. "As was the case with a number of other Edith Cowan University campuses, Joondalup needed to identify the university within the academic community and also stand for the values and vision of the school. Beyond that, there was a desire for a broader civic role for the city of Joondalup."
Like most of the materials used in the building, the jarrah timber is native to this part of Australia. Using paired laminated spines made of jarrah, the architect crafted a screen with I-beam-looking columns, connected to I-beam-styled outriggers in the floor and roof planes. The batten screen
Christopher Moore is a Melbourne-based design and architecture writer and a regular contributor to Houses, the Australian contemporary residential magazine.
Project: New Chancellery Building and Business School, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia Architect: fjmt—Richard Francis-Jones, David Haseler, Elizabeth Carpenter, Lance White, Justin Wong, Jason Wedesweiler, Olivia Shih, Johnathan Redman, Matthew Todd, design team
Associate architect: Hassell Engineer: Bruechle Gilchrist & Evans (structural); BCA (mechanical) Consultants: Engineering Technology Consultants (electrical and lift); MEL Consultants (wind); Arup Fire (fire) RC Oma Design Services (hydraulic)
that meshes these spines together is made from recycled jarrah, cut from railway ties, connected to galvanized and painted Z-sections. The tapered ends of the jarrah members are proportional to their overall length, thus conveying a subtle, secondary arc along the top and bottom of the facade.
The jarrah struts are not simply decorative, but in fact "they form a colonnade at ground level and create shading for the internal spaces, as well as reduce glare from the buildings themselves," Francis-Jones explains. "They create an interstitial space between them and the two buildings they face: the triangular vice chancellor's building and the administrative building." The architects place circulation in the space between the timber screen and the main foyer. Stairways and elevators in this shaded zone open to the view, creating informal meeting places in the atrium and drawing occupants to the outside as they move between the floors and wings of the building. The two buildings behind the struts are joined by a glass bridge.
Internally, the fit-out is simple, with an emphasis on function. Francis-Jones describes the interiors as "materially warm with modest detailing." The palette of colors and finishes reflects the browns and oranges predominant in the nearby desert.
The four volumes that make up the complex are all three stories high, with the elongated business school buildings rising up from the hill behind them and stepping down toward the lawn of the plaza. This terraced section serves as a gathering place for students having lunch, as well as bleacher seating for outdoor events. "When the completed buildings were opened to the public, the university held an opening and the crowds filled the terraces, which have become extensions of the lawn area," explains the architect.
The reinforced concrete frame of the structures primarily utilizes prestressed slabs with steel framing on the first level and steel roof framing throughout the project. The design incorporates an outdoor gathering space, a café, a bookstore, and underground parking for 200 automobiles, as well as the administrative offices for the campus, lecture theaters for the school of business, a gallery, and a space designated for hosting university functions. The architecture integrates building services so the designed form and open spaces are not affected by infrastructural clutter. For example, fumes from car exhaust in the underground car-park are disposed inconspicuously via flues that rise alongside the chancellery building elevator shafts.
The new complex is surrounded by a handful of older university buildings whose vintage stretches back to the early 20th century. FrancisJones says this project has transformed the master plan for the university and will set the stage for new construction in the coming years. While the project is slightly overscaled to the existing context of buildings, it indicates what is to come. "In the future, this campus will be of a much higher density. These buildings are designed to forecast that growth, while retaining a sense of the landscape and existing character. The organic forms of the architecture have been developed to appear to rise naturally out of the landscape itself."
Driving into Joondalup from the south, the striking forms of the jarrah screen offer a bold and confident greeting. It bodes well for a city that Francis-Jones rightly states "has a lot of growing to do." With this campus as a fulcrum for that growth, the seed has been planted both intellectually and architecturally. ■
Exterior cladding: Midland brick Metal curtain wall: Symonite Metal roofing: Bluescope Steel Windows/doors: Capral Aluminum Hardware: Lockwood Closers: Dorma Pulls: Dalco
Cabinet hardware: Hafele Ceilings: Armstrong Paints/stains: Dulux Ferreko Lighting: Austube
For more information on this project, go to Projects at www.archrecord.com.
Entry plaza Council chamber Vice Chancellor's office Executive offices Bridge
Council chamber foyer Lawn
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