Imagine Hogwarts throwing open its secret passageways and flooding its intimidating gothic interiors with some Scandinavian inspired sweetness and light. Kath Dolan discovers how Nest Architects has transformed Melbourne’s University’s 135-year-old residential college Ormond Hall.
April 19th, 2016
For the past seven years Nest Architects has been working with Associate Professor Rufus Black, the Master of Ormond College – one of the largest and most prestigious in Australia, and home to more than 400 students and graduates – heralding change by design at an institution with a long history of conservatism, hierarchy and privilege.
Nest Director Emilio Fuscaldo describes Black as “out of control incredible”. A Rhodes Scholar with degrees in moral theology, law and politics, he’s also Principal Fellow in Melbourne Uni’s Department of Philosophy, an ordained Uniting Church minister, an author, and a former lawyer and management consultant who has led government reviews of, amongst other things, the Australian intelligence community.
Since becoming head of the largest of Melbourne Uni’s five colleges Black has brought in Nest to renovate or refurbish a series of formal, tightly defined spaces into relaxed, transparent, multipurpose, contemporary environments that reflect College values like diversity and community. Needless to say, working with staff, students and alumni on sensitive change management has been a huge part of the brief.
“It’s been really well received, in terms of changing the older generation’s perceptions of what the college is,” Fuscaldo says. “I think that’s why for us, and for me personally, this is really interesting, because he’s using … architecture and interior design as a way to broadcast and change some of the old principles … and usually that’s done through policy and behaviour. And he’s (saying), ‘Well we can do it through building as well’. This guy’s, like, my hero,” he adds with a laugh.
First, three formerly ‘cliquey’ junior common rooms were transformed into flexible, social spaces with a student-run café at their heart. Next, a roof space in McCaughey Court (designed in 1965 by Robin Boyd and Frederick Romberg) was converted into warm, robust social, sleep and study spaces for graduate students using soaring ceilings, contemporary timber and concrete, and mezzanines to capitalise on killer views. Then Black’s old-school office was reinvented as an airy, Scandinavian inspired space flexible enough for casual conversations, confidential meetings and formal dinners.
This month Nest unveils three more refurbishments, with more to come. Amongst the formidable challenges were creating desirable tutors’ offices in a windowless internal space, and transforming a formal senior common room packed with art, furniture and books donated by alumni into an inviting, transparent space flexible enough for anything from a quiet coffee to films or lectures. Fuscaldo says moveable furniture, fresh paint, adaptable lighting, low-key plumbing, soft furnishings to absorb echoes and glass door panels allowing people to see in and out have profoundly affected mood and behaviour. “It’s those tiny little things that change everything,” he says.
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