Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Buildings

The Scientia, UNSW by MGT Architects

This is an article from the Architecture Australia archives and may use outdated formatting

The Scientia has been designed to embody the progressive spirit of the UNSW, and to create a place of spontaneous gathering and of ceremonial focus for the university and the wider community. A sandstone podium anchors the building to its site. This is split at the line of the UNSW Mall, creating an open pedestrian passage through the building and into a new public square where the axial vista is terminated by a grove of poplar trees. The exhibition, function and performance spaces of Scientia are located within this podium. The main ceremonial rooms are on either side of the passage, accommodated within fine, louvred volumes that filter sunlight into warm, timber-lined interiors. Standing between the two volumes is the tree-like structure of the foyer. These tall, open forms, raised to the sky, are the central focus for the building, the axial mall and campus as a whole. The form of these structures, in laminated jarrah, steel and glass, give a gentle sense of enclosure, breaking the sunlight not unlike the shelter of a natural tree canopy. In this way shelter, openness and transparency characterise the centre of Scientia and the centre of the university.



Images: John Gollings

Jury Verdict
A major work of ceremonial architecture, The Scientia has transformed the University of New South Wales campus and given it a remarkably poetic and emblematic focus. Standing at the conclusion of the university’s axial mall and on a significant change of grade, the building?s sandstone podium absorbs this change in an ascendant pedestrian passage leading to a new public square and a grove of poplar trees in the upper campus. In this central slot, now a key focus for the university community and the public at large, laminated timber, glass and steel tree-forms rise to the sky, alluding to the ancient groves of Academe and to hallowed liberal humanist academic traditions. The tree forms also determine the dramatic, energetic structure of the grand foyer, with the dignified ceremonial hall to the north and the music auditorium space and generous main function room to the south. Finely and inventively detailed, subtly and intelligently responsive to its program, sensitive in its responses to environmental and energy issues, and consistent throughout in its materials and structural expression, The Scientia is a rare, highly refined work whose language is international yet whose varying and changeable transparencies are both elegantly rational and pragmatically Australian. The UNSW and the Sydney metropolis are privileged by this consummate work of public architecture.



Project architect
MGT Architects
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Project Team
Richard Francis-Jones, Jeff Morehan, Romaldo Giurgola, Angelo Korsanos, Conrad Johnston, Rhiannon Morgan, Richard Thorp, Jason Trisley, Douglas Brooks, Ninotschka Titchkosky
Acoustic consultant Ove Arup & Partners (Arup Acoustics)
Builder Lend Lease Projects
Developer University of New South Wales
Electrical and communications consultant Barry Webb & Associates
Hydraulic consultant Harris Page
Interior designer MGT Architects
Landscape architect Context Landscape Design
Lighting consultant Barry Webb & Associates
Mechanical consultant Egis Consulting Australia
Project manager Lend Lease Projects
Quantity surveyor Project Cost Planning
Structural and civil consultant Taylor Thomson Whitting
Site Details
Location Sydney,  NSW,  Australia
Category Public / commercial
Project Details
Status Built



Published online: 1 Nov 2000


Architecture Australia, November 2000

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