Stephen Crafti June 06, 2012
A Rheinzink extrusion cantilevers over the laneway behind Building 13. Photo: Trevor Main
THE former Emily McPherson College, on the corner of Russell and Victoria streets, presents as a fairly stoic piece of architecture. Designed in 1926 by architect Edwin Evan Smith, chief architect of the Department of Public Works, the heritage-listed building features a serious set of columns and distinctive steel-framed windows influenced by the American Beaux Arts style.
''We restored most of the original features and those that were replaced are identical to Smith's design,'' says project architect Milica Tumbas, associate director of Lovell Chen Architects and Heritage Consultants, who worked closely with architects Peter Lovell on the heritage side and Kai Chen on the design. ''Building 13 [as it's now referred to] is beautifully proportioned, but has quite an eclectic style,'' adds Tumbas.
Now home to RMIT University's Graduate School of Business and Law, Building 13 is adjacent to the bluestone Old Melbourne Gaol.
The Ethel Osborne lecture theatre bridged the space between the college and the converted jail.
''There was no clear division and you couldn't stand back and admire the rear of either building,'' says Tumbas. Lovell Chen's brief, to provide lecture theatres, flexible learning areas and offices, required considerable reworking of the building.
''We wanted a world-class facility that would cater for those seeking an MBA and there were obvious constraints with the original building,'' says Professor John Toohey. ''But there's still the wonderful sense of volume and, importantly, the connection to the past.''
While Smith's design has been carefully restored, there are glimpses of a contemporary world behind the building's parapet. A Rheinzink-clad box on the fourth level contains a boardroom and a computer lab. There is also a rooftop terrace. The rear of the building is an entirely new wing.
Featuring a dramatic off-formed concrete blade wall, the four-level extension beautifully complements a black glass and Rheinzink facade, complete with rhythmic steel columns.
''We wanted to pick up on the rhythm of the windows in the old jail. But it was also allowing the two forms to have their own identity,'' says Tumbas. And to enliven the ''dialogue'' between the two buildings, Lovell Chen extended the lecture theatre on the top level with a curvaceous Rheinzink extrusion that cantilevers over the laneway behind.
What were corridors and doorways linking two buildings, is now an elongated student lounge and study area, complete with a small cafeteria. On one side are corral-style booths, some with armchairs and ottomans that provide a living room feel. And on the other side of the lounge are benches and bench-style tables.
''The brief included flexible spaces, whether for individual or group sessions,'' says Tumbas. The same flexibility can be seen in the lecture theatre on the third level. While the focus can be towards the screen at the front of the theatre, students can easily swivel their chairs and liaise with students in the adjacent row.
One of the most striking features of Lovell Chen's design is the steel and glass staircase linking levels three and four. Doubling as a light well, this staircase provides a strong contemporary insertion within a historic framework.
''The design has a strong sculptural quality, but we were careful not to detract from the original fabric,'' says Tumbas, pointing out the exquisite leadlight skylights over the main staircases.