Kerstin Thompson designs a Victorian beach retreat

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Right Major arrival vista from the campus
ring road, looking south.
Fibre Optics

Photography by John Gollings. Text by Philip Goad.

Campus architecture in Victoria takes new turns with a folded shed of saturated colours produced by BSA-Sinclair Knight Merz for Deakin University in Geelong.



Above Reception area at the main entry. Below Looking south to the entry foyer, across the forecourt.



Above Looking north in the woollen and worsted production areas. Below Details of the folded roofs and skylights.



Below Looking north from the Waurn Ponds valley, with the wool classing school at left, linked by a covered way to the classroom and research facility.

Over the past decade, Deakin University has extended its presence beyond Waurn Ponds, the original campus on Geelong’s fringe. Deakin now has a city campus in the old Dalgety woolstores, refurbished by McGlashan & Everist. In Melbourne, it has another campus at Malvern, in the 1880s Boom Style mansion, Stonington, and a third further east in Burwood, including buildings by Wood Marsh.
This phenomenon is part of the renaissance in university building design that was begun by RMIT University in 1990. Now other universities are fast employing Victoria’s best architects to catch up and outdo each other. The International Fibre Centre is part of this trend. With state government sponsorship, a unique alliance was formed between the Department of Education, the Gordon Institue of TAFE and Deakin. This group became the client for a facility to reinvigorate the Waurn Ponds campus and, more significantly, provide a focus of innovative research for what was once Australia’s premier export market, the wool industry.
BSA-Sinclair Knight Merz (the privatised phoenix of the Public Works Department) was requested to provide a signature building that would announce high technology and research better than the benign and woodsy 1970s buildings nearby. Principal Architect Hamish Lyon has not mimicked the obvious ‘functional tradition’ of the rural shed nor delved into the tempting and fashionable strategy of weaving, of glibly invoking the warp and the weft. Instead a decision to house some of Great Britain’s finest wool-spinning and worsted production machines (bought from a factory in Yorkshire) triggered an exercise in generic space-making; the folding of a plane to make a big shed as well as teaching spaces, laboratories, sheep shearing sheds, a wool-classing hall, horticultural centre and a materials production plant.
Lyon has moved on from his rigorous studies of housing typologies in the manner of Grassi and Monestiroli. The Fibre Centre instead demonstrates his long-standing interests in American minimalist art, in the work of painters like Barnett Newman, Clifford Still and James Turrell. The inspiration for the cranked and distorted shed form was drawn from Ellsworth Kelly’s Bar (1955). The aim was to examine the planar, two-dimensional quality of the Kelly painting and attempt to translate its unspoken complexities into a piece of architecture. In doing so, Lyon makes ambiguous the notion of figure/ground—but to me, there also appear to be heavily abstracted and graphic vignettes of previous industrial architecture: Stirling & Gowan’s engineering laboratories at Leicester; a mirrored, pasted-on, Corbusian strip window; the framed window of Foster’s Sainsbury Centre embracing Romberg’s steel struts from the ETA Factory. The latter are turned on their sides to become a window to the wool-classing room—a space whose smell and original timber sorting tables make up for any lack of specific symbolic allusion. Splashes of saturated colour (‘Slicker’ yellow and ‘Mardi Gras’ pink) combine with the ‘Polar White’ and ‘Silver Coin’ of the freezer/coolroom metal sandwich panels, a material whose absolute flatness accentuates the folding and wrapping of minimalist surface.
The International Fibre Centre is part of a shift in Melbourne’s architecture climate in the late 1990s—towards intensely felt formal experiment and buildings with hermetic skins. These are not relentless exemplars of technique but episodic skins whose residual spaces create external rooms and whose complex urban massing defeats a reading of the object as a coherent whole. Lyon’s taut manipulations join those of Garner Davis at the Wagga Wagga Civic Centre and Kerstin Thompson’s recent houses. Transparency, reflection and visual tension mark these projects—as well as a startling aesthetic economy. Composition blurs materiality and architecture becomes a silent witness to the architect’s persistent will to form.
Dr Philip Goad is a senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Melbourne


International Fibre Centre, Deakin University, Waurn Ponds Campus, Geelong, Victoria
Architects BSA-Sinclair Knight Merz—project team Hamish Lyon, Sue Handley, Ben Puddy, Richard Middleton, David Griffin, Edel Sporkert, Robert Drews, Peter Wong. Structural Engineer (steel) BSA-Sinclair Knight Merz; (concrete) Hyder Consulting. Building Economics BSA-Sinclair Knight Merz. Textile Process Engineers JORD Engineers. Mechanical, Electrical, Communications and Security Engineers Bassett Consulting. Builder Walter Group. Steel Fabricator Stilcon. Client Department of Education (Office of Training and Further Education).

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Published online: 1 Sep 1999

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Architecture Australia, September 1999

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