Finalist 2021

Melbourne Connect

Woods Bagot / University of Melbourne / Lendlease

People, place, and possibilities: Melbourne Connect brings together the best and brightest minds to build a powerful network of innovation.

Melbourne Connect is a purpose-built powerhouse designed to foster the kind of bold new thinking and collaborations that drive innovation.

Powered by the University of Melbourne, in partnership with Lendlease and lead architect Woods Bagot, the precinct brings together world class researchers, industry leaders, start-ups, higher degree students and artists under one roof to supercharge collective ideation.

Porous, open and engaging to the wider community, the place and its programs are designed to help researchers, industry, government and community work together to unlock digitally driven, data-enabled and socially responsible solutions to tackle the most pressing challenges facing society.

Design Brief

Acquiring the site of the former Royal Women’s Hospital (2012), the University went to market tender (2015), seeking a development partner to deliver its bold aspiration of creating a culture of collaboration and innovation that facilitates and encourages engagement on a scale never achieved before in Australia.

Through a collaborative masterplan approach led by Woods Bagot, Lendlease partnered with architects Woods Bagot and Hayball and landscape architect Aspect Studios, to realise the University’s vision and make it a place for connection that ignites the active flow of knowledge and invention.

Lendlease’s team proposed more than just a design solution: it was an integrated design and operational model developed with the University’s objectives at its core. The masterplan and architecture embody the values of Melbourne Connect: open, transparent, permeable and connected. It redefines a traditional university building to engage partners and community alike with the creativity and ingenuity of innovation.

This project was developed by:

  • Architect Lead: Woods Bagot
  • Client: University of Melbourne
  • Developer: Lendlease
  • Architect – Residential Building (The Lofts): Hayball
  • Services Engineer: NDY
  • Structural, Civil, Facades, ESD Engineer: ARUP
  • Structural Engineer (mass timber): Northrop
  • Landscape Architect: Aspect Studios
  • Building Surveyor: McKenzie Group
  • Accessibility: Morris Goding
  • Planning: Urbis
  • Wayfinding: Studio Semaphore
  • Logistics / Waste: Space 2 Develop
  • Facade Access: Altitude

Design Process

Proximity and density are typically key to the architectural proposition for an innovation precinct. Melbourne Connect presented a complex brief: create an innovation ecosystem catered to the public, the University and diverse precinct occupants. With these users and the specific Carlton context in mind, our approach to the design required integrated and unconventional solutions that challenged almost all aspects of the project – from the brief, to the planning process, the workflows and design documentation, through to the construction techniques and solutions.

The competition design process was structured around an intense analysis of the design brief, and focused on ways for the team to challenge the base requirements to meet the project ambitions. Through several design workshops with the University, it was established that the Lendlease team design proposition would exceed the brief.

A great work environment must acknowledge what people need to be at their best: the project design process included a series of collaborative design and engagement workshops and presentations with all stakeholders invested in the project. This included the University, Lendlease, Melbourne Connect and the Superfloor team, the School of Engineering, Science Gallery Melbourne, facility managers, student accommodation operator, childcare operator, among others.

Authority approvals: this process is a valuable part of any project, and ours benefited from the design being presented and reviewed with the OVGA, DELWP, and the City of Melbourne at various points along the design journey.

Woods Bagot’s internal design process involved a robust series of design reviews and collaborative sessions with independent reviewers within the broader business, to embed specialist knowledge and research from WB’s global team working on other innovation precincts across the globe.

Innovation precincts are essentially “New-era, next-level mixed-use” and are by nature “proximity driven collaboration places”—it follows that such a place made FOR collaboration, is made BY collaboration.

Design Excellence

With greater openness to flexible working comes renewed appreciation for the true value of physical proximity—to build trust and dialogue and share ambitions that lead to breakthroughs. Melbourne Connect represents that vision: a place devoted to providing the right conditions for people to work cooperatively and competitively to develop expertise and new technologies.

A series of key design principles governed our approach from the outset:
- Deliver a high-quality built form which combines key land uses with high quality amenity;
- Resolve a built form reflecting the strategic importance of the precinct;
- Demonstrate innovative precinct-wide ESD; and
- Create enhanced public realm and open space around which the program could connect – taking cues from spaces the University has always held, eg the Old Quadrangle – making connection back to a place of knowledge recognisable.

Adaptive reuse proved unfeasible to facilitate the intentions for the University and the city; a new building was the way forward.

We conceptually flipped the program 90 degrees and lifted it off the ground for universal accessibility, that also mediates a 4m height difference across the site.

Womin Djerring (Come Together)—the central open space—is both ceremonial and practical. Pushing the built form (and the program) to the street-edges creates the gathering space at the heart of the precinct. Full of fresh air and light, the space connects all precinct users, as does the Superfloor internally.

The external articulation is deliberately broken down into discernable components – space between each piece signifies either an entrance or a laneway through the site, continually connecting the buildings to their Carlton context, and inviting the public in.

The architectural composition of the buildings at the corner sets the tone for the precinct experience, visibly meshing creativity, ingenuity and innovation through exhibitions and events glimpsed through the permeable facade.

Design Innovation

Since 1856, the site has been dedicated to women’s health innovation in science and wellbeing; a place of continuous learning with groundbreaking research. That legacy continues today.

The building is warmly welcoming, with the ground-floor Science Gallery Melbourne openly inviting the community to come in and immerse themselves in the ideas and energy pollinating within the precinct.

This ‘open-source’ ethos extends to the Superfloor and Telstra Creator Space, where users are encouraged to ‘play’ with their ideas, refining and testing theories in a deeply collaborative and welcoming space.

The 3,600sqm Superfloor is a generous meeting, event and workspace area that brings users together to help drive ideas further and faster. This dedicated collaboration space is accessible to all co-located partners and sets a global benchmark for community curation and partner amenity. The Telstra Creator Space is its perfect complement – providing access to the space and technology that can put ideas into prototype action, fast.

The thoughtful curation of adaptable workspaces, collaboration hubs, open air atrium, childcare and health and wellbeing features all contribute to creating a positive, dynamic environment, where people want spend time at work on the next great breakthrough.

Large floorplates reduce barriers between industry and the University, while a precinct-wide base building information and communications (ICT) infrastructure ensures high-speed Wi-Fi connectivity for all.

The central landscaped oculus, Womin Djerring (come together), infuses the space with fresh air and light, with carefully chosen retail, flexible seating and Wi-Fi. The space connects all precinct users including the 527 bed post-graduate accommodation at ‘The Lofts @ Melbourne Connect’, the FROEBEL Early Childhood Learning Centre and Care Service, the Melbourne Entrepreneurial Centre and Science Gallery Melbourne.

Best practice end of trip facilities, bike parking and excellent public transport connections make it easy for precinct users to maintain health and wellbeing.

Design Impact

With a bold vision, Melbourne Connect presented a series of construction and engineering challenges overcome by an innovative mindset and collaborative approach.

All three buildings – the six-storey hybrid timber building, 14-storey student accommodation and 10-storey commercial building housing the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology – are united by the Superfloor. The detailed design of the timber building minimises issues around connecting buildings with different structures, such as responses to seismic, wind and surface temperature. Bespoke joints reduce construction complexity and cost, while alleviating ongoing maintenance issues.

The six-storey building uses an engineered timber structure designed to simplify construction, reduce safety and risk issues and improve sustainability outcomes.

Science Gallery Melbourne, on the corner of Swanson and Grattan Streets, required innovative solutions to minimise the number of columns and maximise ceiling heights. The design reduces structural depth and weight and improves the foundation system.

Science Gallery Melbourne’s feature stairs benefited from engineering thinking which reduced member sizes and materials by 40%, improving aesthetics for the gallery user while lowering costs.

Through its architectural form and outward-facing character, the gallery fulfils a crucial role in social and cultural activation. The media façade of digital bricks at Science Gallery Melbourne’s entry is a complex piece of technology developed with collaborators across engineering, research, technology, architecture and media. Content relating to current exhibitions is programmed into the interactive bricks. Touching is irresistible.

Melbourne Connect is set to improve Victoria’s productivity, economic and social development through workforce capability programs, SME engagement and strong support for priority sectors — from digital to health, advanced manufacturing, and agriculture. Given the nature of the development and its focus on bringing together enhanced education and research facilities alongside innovative commercial working spaces designed for collaboration, Melbourne Connect is a critical element in Melbourne’s ambition to become Australia’s technology hub.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

The University of Melbourne set an ambitious sustainability agenda that was required to be achieved in the design and delivery of Melbourne Connect. This meant a strong sustainability ethos was at the forefront throughout design and construction. Starting from bid phase, the team adopted an integrated approach to solve key sustainability items and create innovative points of difference for the project.

In setting new standards for innovation, Melbourne Connect will do the same for energy and sustainability standards in Australia, reducing estimated energy consumption and greenhouse emissions by 40-50%.

Drawing on Lendlease’s pioneering experience with pre-fabricated timber, the six-storey building uses a clever combination of Cross-Laminated Timber for the floor and Glulam for the columns and beams, reducing cost and complexity and promoting a healthier internal ambience.

Energy performance is optimised through a range of elements, from geothermal through to one of Melbourne’s biggest photovoltaic rooftop solar arrays, as well as efficient building services including LED lighting and smart precinct heating and cooling. The project is on track to achieve ambitious NABERS, Green Star and on-site renewable targets.

The high-performance façade has been designed to deliver optimal levels of daylight and comfort, reducing glare and energy use, while maximising the enjoyment of the city views. This leading façade solution was devised in partnership with ARUP and achieved through powerful parametric façade modelling to assess façade and shading module types. This has resulted in a really striking architectural outcome.

Social connection to the site’s history as the former Royal Women’s Hospital was critically important in the delivery of Melbourne Connect. The building itself uses 25,000 bricks sourced from the old Hospital, matching sustainability with symbolism. First Nations people named the new laneways and open spaces, in honour of their age-old connection with this place.

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