New ways of learning are transforming the design of university buildings as the traditional model of the lecturer standing in front of a tiered theatre is gradually replaced with more activity and group-based techniques. The universal adoption of laptops and handheld devices is just one of the reasons students and teachers are seeking flexible and collaborative spaces to learn in.

Warren and Mahoney Architects was tasked with the redevelopment of the University of Canterbury’s College of Engineering, a collection of buildings constructed between the 1950s and 1990s which the university took the opportunity to redevelop following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The chief challenge was how to modernise the complex and link the existing buildings, which radiate into four wings, in order to create a new heart in the midst of the facility where lecturers, researchers and students could collaborate, communicate and socialise. “It was important that the regenerated college would be able to unite the community of engineers and improve the student experience,” says Graeme Finlay, Principal of Warren and Mahoney.

The architects’ brief was to create a state-of-the-art research and educational establishment within the confines of the existing buildings. These also needed repairing and earthquake strengthening to the higher standard required of an educational facility, a highly complex task.

The strategy adopted was to take a poorly used and run-down courtyard and transform it into a modern, inviting hub. This space, dubbed The Core, contains comfortable sofas, chairs and tables for collaborative working. There are cubicles for quiet study and private conversations, all furnished with splashes of vibrant purple, the College of Engineering’s signature colour. Drawing rooms, CAD suites, lecture theatres and meeting rooms are located around the perimeter of The Core.

The Core was opened on the first day of the 2017 academic year and College of Engineering Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Evans-Freeman said that student and lecturers alike had “enthusiastically” embraced the concept. “It’s a well-used space seven days a week and a variety of functions and events are planned to maximise the benefits of the space starting early next year.” The college plans to use this hub to showcase student achievements, projects and research, and to host conferences out of term time.

The complex comprises four wings which connect directly to The Core. These are alternately dedicated to chemical and process engineering, electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil and natural resources engineering. “A key strategy is transparency of purpose and the wings are designed to showcase to the students the ground-breaking and inspirational work that goes on in these spaces,” says Finlay. A new structural engineering laboratory – one of the largest of its kind in Australasia that is able to simulate earthquakes and test full-size building structures – has also been created as a standalone building, but still part of the Engineering precinct.

Two of the redeveloped wings are already operational and two more are set to open by the end of the year. Finlay says it has been satisfying to deliver on this long-term, full-scale project. “The reinvigorated teaching and research facility now has a united and strong identity with keys into our client’s aim to become one of the top ten engineering colleges in the Southern Hemisphere by 2023.”

Photo credit: Sarah Rowlands


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