Melbourne School of Design

Laminated veneered lumber (LVL) and advanced prefabrication techniques used to construct a new education facility, the Melbourne School of Design, at The University of Melbourne.
Project Name
Melbourne School of Design - a suspension of disbelief
Case Study Type
Photographer Details
John Gollings; Peter Bennetts


The University of Melbourne’s new Melbourne School of Design has been created to accommodate students and staff from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning. It will also house research projects undertaken in collaboration with other faculties.

Occupying six levels, the new facility includes a series of studio spaces, a studio hall and atrium, lecture theatres, a library, exhibition spaces and specialist workshop areas. It also integrates two significant historical elements, the 1856 facade of the Bank of NSW and the ‘Japanese Room’.

The building serves as a hub for undergraduate and graduate education, enabling critical interdisciplinary exploration into issues of sustainability in built environments through its external structure and internal design. The building itself is a laboratory for experimentation and research.

Situated in the centre of the historic core of the University’s Parkville campus, the building creates urban spaces that emphasise occupation and pedestrian movements. It responds to the existing historic fabric of its immediate surroundings and to the opening up of activities at its perimeter. A transparent ground plane reveals the building to passers by and encourages further engagement between the building and the broader campus community.



Melbourne School of Design incorporates innovative structural systems. Engineered laminated veneer lumber (LVL) timber beams have been used in the atrium roof structure to reduce the embodied energy of the building.

The LVL beams span 20 metres across the studio hall and atrium. Manufactured as box beams with internal timber trusses, these elements were transported to site as prefabricated elements. The largest of the beams is 20 metres long x 3.5 metres deep. The LVL coffers act as both a shading device and a means of adding lateral rigidity to the beam structure.

The beams support a prefabricated 6 metre x 20 metre panelised glass roof.

The coffered ceiling acts as the fifth elevation to the building. Each coffer void angles toward the south to allow ample daylight to penetrate to the floor. The surface of the suspended studio itself transforms as the distance from the ceiling increases. The surface alternates from solid plywood to perforated panels backed with acoustic batting to assist in acoustic softening. The angled surface of the object also aids in the distribution of sound rather than reflection.


A transparent ground plane opens up the Melbourne School of Design to passers-by and encourages engagement and interaction with the broader campus community. Circulation paths around and through the building are clearly defined and emphasise opportunities for greater interaction.

The eastern courtyard signifies the major entry point into the Melbourne School of Design. It faces the historic Elisabeth Murdoch building, and is flanked by the library wing (to the south) and the workshop wing and entry to the large lecture theatre (to the north). Beyond the eastern courtyard entry, an internal street leads to the library and workshop entries whilst also drawing pedestrians into the major circulation routes up and through the building.

An external stair and bleacher seating to the north east activates the perimeter of the building whilst inviting passers-by to venture up and into the level one studio hall, which becomes a public urban room in its own right.

The western facade retains and integrates the facade of the historic former bank of NSW, which is in turn flanked by perforated zinc solar screens. These screens also line the north and east elevations and provide passive solar control to the building.


A number of themes were identified when the initial concepts for the Melbourne School of Design were developed. One of the main briefing requirements was for ‘Built Pedagogy’, whereby the building itself educates the occupants and provides a catalyst for learning. This tenet has been welcomed into the interior in both subtle and overt ways.

The design of the building facilitates collaborative interdisciplinary participation and the critical exploration of challenging building issues, and allows for a multitude of formal and creative activities. The transparency of the building supports the vision of a living learning building.

Carefully exposed materials and structures allow the user insight into the construction processes. There is a unique sense of visibility in the building with features such as the LVL beams and coffers, suspended timber studio, timber lined Y-Stair and the woven stainless steel mesh balustrade all enabling transparency between floors and across different spaces.

The historic timber-lined Japanese room has been holistically incorporated into a custom-designed envelope of timber batten and board in response to the materiality of the room. Sliding timber-framed glass doors and screens have been incorporated into the design creating a flow and link between the interior and exterior spaces.

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