Beyond the realm of academia, RMIT’s administrative offices, or RMIT Our Place, by ARM Architecture called for a series of curated, tech-savvy spaces to appeal to its diversity of workers.
July 25th, 2022
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) has always been a forward-thinking organisation, practising what it preaches and leading the way when it comes to architecture, both taught and built. The Melbourne campus boasts cutting-edge building design from architecture luminaries such as Edmond and Corrigan, Lyons and Sean Godsell Architects, to name but a few. However, with the new administration offices located at 222 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne’s CBD, once again RMIT is setting new standards in design that not only make a serious creative statement but provide a workplace to enhance the daily life of staff.
The commission was awarded to ARM Architecture, a practice well-known for its innovative and original projects, and lead architect, Jesse Judd, and his team have accomplished something very special through their visionary design. To also help explore and incorporate First Nations culture, there was a deep co-design process with Boon Wurrung senior elder, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs.
“Through COVID-19, the premonition for collaborative working has come true. We’ve all discovered we can work in our home or wherever. However we need an office because [we] create amazing things by working together with people. This workplace is truly collaborative, and has all the physical amenities and technological facilities to enable that collaboration. That’s what a new workplace needs to be,” says Judd.
The brief was challenging: to provide a modern, technologically advanced, spatially curated office space that reflects where RMIT resides in its location but one that would also resonate with the diverse university administration team. The design was required to be all things to all people and although this sounds like an impossibility, as consummate architects, ARM has achieved a stellar outcome.
The spatial footprint of the project is large, with a combined floorplate of more than 10,600 square metres over three levels. The building is ideally positioned close to the main RMIT campus and within handy reach not just for the administration departments but the educators and students as well. Historically the many areas of administration for the university have been located separately, each siloed, with no cohesive whole. By combining the eight different business departments, there has been a re-energising of the inner workings of RMIT that also better complements the education of students.
The build was short, only four months, and the concept came together quickly. However eight months was invested in the consultation period to truly understand the needs and requirements of each area that constituted ‘back of house’ for this dynamic tertiary institution. To achieve the perfect design outcome, Judd collaborated with Professor Martyn Hook, Deputy PVC and Dean of Architecture and Design, and Chris Hewison, Executive Director of Property Services and Chief Procurement Officer. Through this partnership, the interior reflects the true aspirations of RMIT.
“Universities are now at a scale, operating in a set of environments where they need to be far more geared towards a different professional environment. They have a very different set of circumstances that are operating within the new workplace, whereas I suppose traditionally, universities have been geared towards the learning and teaching experiences of the students, the requirements of our researchers, and how you then manage that was often done by academics. Now we’re in a very different space,” Hook explains.
Taking into account the disparate information from its client, ARM began a radical workplace design that reflects its location – the city. The interior over the three floors is as dynamic as the metropolis outside the walls of the building. The design has been delineated into destinations and neighbourhoods. No two areas are the same. Style, colour, pattern, texture, furnishings, viewpoints, prospects and amenity are individual, save for the stairwells and the lifts.
The concept incorporates 11 individual destinations that fall within three main themes: The Big Picture, The Bush, and The ‘Burbs. Add to this six neighbourhoods – Our Future, City Grit, Bushland and Outback, The Shed, The Suburbs and On the Road – and the diversity of the Australian landscape is incorporated into this very particular workplace. There are no personal offices but there are quiet spaces, relaxing places, meeting rooms for one or a crowd and everything in between.
Among the detailed and diverse design there is a feature of note, among the many, that is the Ngargee. Set in a void at the side of level seven, this space has been transformed into a modern-day amphitheatre and a gathering space for staff. Through consultation and collaboration with N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, the design of the Ngargee has been imbued with the meaning of people and place. As an example, the design of the carpet that covers the steps that provide seating reflects the proposition that the night sky is one thing that binds all cultures across the world. The white of the stars on the black of the base carpet comes alive as it undulates upwards to meet a timber platform with tables and chairs and makes this space a singular design.
Not only is every area in this workplace unique, the overall design of the interior has been enhanced through art, paintings, sculpture and objects from the RMIT Gallery Collection. The works have been beautifully curated and sit comfortably on walls and plinths, in prominent places and tucked away spaces. Also drawing on the talent of RMIT students, contributions were commissioned, along with works from well-known luminaries Reko Rennie and David Harley. While the pandemic delayed the re-populating of the new offices, there is now a deep desire for workers to connect, collaborate and communicate together. This is a workplace that encourages the very best in its staff and those who work in this environment are very fortunate indeed.
Encapsulating this sentiment, Hewison comments, “In 2019 RMIT embarked to design and build a fit-out for a new working space for approximately 1200 staff close to the core campus. Core to the design is RMIT’s commitment to Indigenous reconciliation which is reflected in so many aspects of the design for our community to respect, enjoy and learn.
“We also wanted an open, transparent and fully flexible space driven by technology. The design of the space is a facilitator of a new hybrid way of working, where teams can collaborate, connect and co-create together without the constraints of old-world offices and ‘owned’ spaces. The design reflects RMIT’s approach to always looking at new ways of doing things, pushing the boundaries in innovation and thought leadership.”
John Gollings and Shannon McGrath
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