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New QUT precinct to be “grounded” in landscape

Australian practice Wilson Architects and Scandinavian practice Henning Larsen Architects have been chosen to design a $75 million education precinct at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

The project features a building that will house the Faculty of Education, the university’s Oodgeroo Unit (a centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education) and E Learning services. Landscape architecture practice Taylor Cullity Lethlean will also be collaborating with the team to design a pedestrian hub for the campus that features connections to the neighbouring community, Kelvin Grove.

Wilson Architects managing director Hamilton Wilson and director John Thong said that an integral element of the new design centres around its capacity to integrate and take advantage of the steep topography of the site, which contains a nine metre height difference across the terrain. The main building will link two platforms using a series of stairs and tiers, and will also incorporate an indoor garden to reflect its tropical location.

“In a way we’re doing what we can to blur the boundaries between internal spaces and the external communal spaces of the campus so that it breaks down the thresholds that have been traditionally built up with some of the buildings and the site,” Wilson said.

The site currently contains two masonry block, split-level buildings, which will be demolished to make way for the new education precinct.

Thong said that working with Danish practice Henning Larsen Architects allowed the two practices to share their unique knowledge, skills and experience in designing educational facilities.

“Their approach to daylight is very different – it’s such a precious commodity up in Copenhagen, so their office planning arrangements differ quite dramatically to how we might approach it. We have strong natural daylight – light and shade plays a big part here, whereas they bring a different sensibility about access to natural daylight,” he said.

The selection of Wilson Architects for the project follows the practice’s previous experience in education design, including James Cook University’s Education Central in Townsville and QUT’s Science and Engineering Centre.

“One of the major challenges for educational designers is that contemporary pedagogies consume more space than the content-based pedagogies,” said Wilson. “Things like the proportion and size of the room, the type of furniture, the room acoustics and the incorporation of technology all have a significant impact on the efficacy of the learning spaces.”

Wilson explained how content-based teaching relies on the academic’s content being delivered (traditionally through the relatively inflexible “rows of students” model), whereas contemporary pedagogies focus more on problem-based learning that facilitates the vast range of content available to students through the internet.

“Problem-based learning relies on a more fluid spatial organization which can flex around a broader range of learning modes. It potentially consumes more space than content based pedagogy,” he said.

Facilitating student-directed learning environments is another important element of contemporary education, according to Wilson. The building will feature creative enquiry spaces that allow students to 3D print, solder, build, laser cut materials or utilize digital media tools.

“Student-directed spaces encourage independent learning as opposed to teacher-led spaces, which are facilitated by the academic,” he said.

“Rather than simply fill these spaces with funky furniture, we are very interested in recognizing group dynamics as well as creating furniture and technologies that productively empower the student.”

The design of the building also aims to reflect its function in housing the Oodgeroo Unit at the university.

“When designing for the Indigenous community there’s this notion about connection to the ground and to place. What’s good for the Indigenous community it turns out is just as good for the non-Indigenous community,” Wilson said.

“Having a building that is deeply grounded into a landscape and connected to a landscape, that’s good for humanity, not just about targeting a particular group.”

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