Hassell has finished the renovation of a modernist teaching building at the Australian National University in Canberra.
The $75 million upgrade to the Birch Building, now home to the School of Engineering, required an adaptive reuse approach, retaining some of the features of unique heritage value, such as the building’s pre-engineered facade and staircase. atrium, while improving the performance and function of the building.
Working within the existing envelope, the facade’s modernist expression was left intact while new window components were added to restore the building’s thermal performance. The architect worked closely with the university and the College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) to create a more sustainable design outcome with better and more flexible collaboration spaces while celebrating the building’s history .
The Birch Building was originally designed in 1968 by Eggleston, MacDonald and Secomb – a practice responsible for the design of many key early buildings on college campuses across the country.
From the 1960s to the 2000s, Eggleston, MacDonald and Secomb’s reputation in educational buildings earned him commissions at a number of institutions of higher education, including the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the La Trobe University, Newcastle University, Caulfield Institution of Technology, Melbourne Teachers’ College, Ballarat TAFE and more.
Hassell’s principal, Mark Roehrs, led the project’s team of architects, interior designers and landscape architects. Roehrs said the team understood the responsibility to “celebrate the building’s unique heritage character by developing a design that was sympathetic to the features and retained its character”.
As part of the renovation, the Hassell team restored a historic water fountain, to re-establish the building’s “civic presence” on campus. Inside, the iconic staircase has been modernized along with the travertine-lined foyers. Partitions have been removed to improve sunlight, views, and connections to teaching spaces, labs, and workspaces.
“New collaboration and kitchen spaces surround and activate the central staircase to encourage students and staff to come together and exchange ideas in the heart of the college,” Roehrs said.
“We made sure that the risers and ducts of the building’s essential services would not alter the beautiful arched beam structure of 1968. The original structure is expressed and celebrated in the bright spaces around the perimeter of the building.”
The renovation has helped ensure that campus assets can be used in a more flexible and collaborative way in the future.