Smart by Design

With the opening of the new Jeffrey Smart Building, the University of South Australia offers its students and staff a world- class facility.

With the opening of the new Jeffrey Smart Building, the University of South Australia offers its students and staff a world- class facility.

It was starting to feel like construction on the University of South Australia’s Jeffrey Smart Building was never going to finish. But after two years the much-anticipated addition to the City West campus finally opened its doors on April 28 to some fanfare. Designed by John Wardle Architects, who partnered with Phillips Pilkington Architects and also worked closely with Wilson Architects on the learning spaces, the eight-level 13,400sqm building is an imposing new structure situated in the far west end of Hindley Street. The learning centre has already garnered the reputation for being a ‘one stop shop’ amongst students, as it not only houses the University’s library and a number of flexible learning spaces, it also accommodates student services, including Campus Central and Security and Campus Operations. For John Wardle Architects’ Senior Associate Meaghan Dwyer it represents a new approach to a university building. “Because we were providing a much more comprehensive service for students, there was a lot of time spent understanding the detail that needed to be included in order to make the building a success,” she says. “Rather than just designing it as a straight library, which is the more conventional approach.” The new building’s function is as compelling as its form. The boldly angular, predominantly off-white precast concrete façade is in keeping with John Wardle Architects’ signature style, which is also evident across the University’s existing Wardle-designed buildings. But what sets the Jeffrey Smart Building apart is the substantial external recreational space it offers. “We conceived the ground floor as having the interior continuous with the exterior, so the interior spaces make sense when you understand them in the context of the courtyard,” explains Dwyer. “We see it as being an active and fluid ground plane that provides a range of settings students can enjoy.” This variation is also continued throughout the building’s other seven levels with flexible learning spaces a defining design concept. Seating is a mix of in-built furniture as well as loose tables and chairs that can be re-configured to suit small or large study groups. The combination of different furniture types makes the interior spaces feel ‘crafted’ somehow and lends each individual alcove or hub unique definition. Giving students a choice in how they wish to occupy the building is a generosity on the part of the architects, making for a heightened user experience. Colour also plays a key role in engaging students and the interior palette is striking for its boldness and variation. Dwyer is aware the building’s large scale disallowed the use of a single colour across all levels, as this would have simply appeared monotonous. The solution was to apply a different colour palette for each floor and these were selected from distinct South Australian landscapes. Not only does this work as a wayfinding strategy, but it also adds warmth. As Dwyer reflects: “We really conceived this building as being the heart of the campus in many ways; it’s a building that’s relevant to all the students and we dearly hope it’s a place they enjoy.” johnwardlearchitects.com unisa.edu.au

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