A building which features layers that change with light and design patterns that mimic scientific discoveries has become the first in Australia to be named among the world’s top university campus buildings.

Melbourne University’s Life Sciences building designed by Hassell has been named as a finalist in the Campus category of the UNESCO Prix Versailles award in 2020.

This is the first time that any buildings in Australia have been named finalists in the UNESCO awards in the Campuses category.

Opened in early 2019 and set within the oldest botanic garden in the Southern Hemisphere, the building is the Melbourne University’s first teaching and learning facility in life sciences and is home to medical health and veterinary training.

The building itself is set on the university’s north-western corner – an area which previously served merely as its back of house entry.

Features include:

  • A curved shaped façade which reflects the concentric layout of the historic garden.
  • Layers which change with light and open up to invite passers-by to see what is happening inside
  • Detailing and patterns which speak of discoveries, such as organisms under a microscope.
  • A winding timber staircase which brings students from different sciences together as they move around the building.
  • Different spaces which are curated to enable students to collaborate and take time out along with technical and clinical areas foster concentrated learning and practical investigation.

A spiralling staircase at the Melbourne University Life Sciences building ensures that students of different sciences will cross over (image source: Hassell)

Hassell Principal Mark Loughnan said the naming of an Australian building in the awards underscores growing recognition of the abilities of Australia’s design industry.

“This recognition not only reflects the success of having a shared client vision to deliver an integrated building and campus outcome,” Loughnan said.

“It also highlights the level of design talent we have across Hassell, and within the Australian design industry, that is both acknowledged and competitive internationally.”

Students learning in the new life sciences building (image source: Hassell)

Other shortlisted projects include:

  • The Haibing Centre at Nankai University in the port city of Tianjin in north-eastern China, which sits on a site flanked by water on both sides as well as natural vegetation and which provides a multi-functional, cultural space for teaching.
  • The Student Scentre at University College London, which was designed for and by the students and which saw the carbon footprint of carbon used in the building halved via the use of industrial waste products and which sees 30.44 megawatt hours of renewable energy generated through 250 meters squared of rooftop solar panels.
  • The School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore, which consistent wit tropical architecture features natural ventilation in more than 50 percent of the area, most of the rooms being able to be opened in the breeze; architecture which is punctuated by an alternation of terraces, landscaped balconies and informal spaces; circulation corridors and straight flight staircases which link and penetrate these volumetric platforms, allowing spaces to bleed from one learning and research space to another and broadcast a collaborative nature of design; and a large over-sailing roof which protrudes along the south elevation embedding a tropical portico, built around mature existing trees.
  • The new Science building at Yale University, which features seven stories of cutting-edge tech, from wet-bench labs of the Quantitative Biology Institute to a greenhouse built directly onto the roof with glass shipped in from overseas.
  • The Isenberg School of Management Business Innovation Hub at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which features a triangular glass entrance created by a domino effect with a building exterior that creates a distinct appearance without curved elements through use of straight, vertical pillars which slope downward; a wide, singular loop combined with a pre-existing building which links back on the upper floors to maintain connectivity and which consolidates the university’s faculty and faculty staff under one roof; and copper cladding which will be naturally weathered from a dark ochre colour to an enduring patina colour.