Arts West, University of Melbourne by ARM and Architectus
Steel Architecture: Colorbond Award
Australian Institute of Architects
The new Arts West building at Melbourne University is distinguished by an elegant and playful steel screen applied across its three most prominent facades. This screen sits proud of the glass curtain wall of the building, providing essential shading and giving a striking character to this new insertion into the established university campus.
The geometry of the waves and ripples of the steel fins generates from the arched cloisters at ground level, flowing and wrapping around the building in response to the differing shading requirements of each orientation. The twisting of the screens cleverly provides ample transparency for natural lighting of the interior and for views out from learning spaces, while from the passing pedestrian’s oblique view of the upper levels, there is a greater sense of solidity.
In addition to its environmental and iconographic roles, the screen incorporates a narrative drawn from objects held in the university’s twenty-three cultural collections, seemingly carved in urban-scaled bas-relief. Consultations with staff from several university faculties led to the selection of images that would communicate an appropriate message and would be timeless, legible and liked. The reading of these embedded images is subtle – from most vantage points as an abstraction – thus introducing an element of intrigue.
The use of galvanized steel lends the curving, flowing blades a graphic fineness and surface texture that would not be possible in another material. The architects pioneered 3D virtual modelling techniques for the facade by adapting gaming software. These techniques were used not only to design the steel fin array but also to directly communicate it to the fabricators. This innovative use of steel as a decorative and functional facade element defines a new direction for potential uses for this versatile material.