Timber improves learning outcomes for university students

The durability and warmth of timber supports the University of Melbourne’s model, providing a new learning landscape at the Eastern Precinct Student Centre.
Project Name
Eastern Precinct, University of Melbourne, Parkville
Case Study Type
Photographer Details
Dianna Snape www.snapephoto.com.au


Melbourne University's Eastern Precinct Student Centre supports students in undergraduate science programs. The building project included refurbishment of existing teaching, library and retail spaces across different buildings (including the historic Frank Tate Pavillion); a new infill building housing the Science Student Centre; and new external pavilion structures.

"I specified timber because it honours materials associated with homes," said Troy Thirlwell, Project Architect, Cox Architects and Planners. "The spaces are designed to encourage students and staff to ‘colonise' them, which facilitates new modes of learning and information delivery and exchange."

"Timber is warm and familiar, and it connects external to internal architecture. It is the ideal material for this project because it can be used inside and out. For example, while solid Spotted Gum was used externally, Spotted Gum veneer was used for internal elements. The timber elements of the Frank Tate Pavillion are replicated in the joinery of the internal spaces, and large timber tables are specifically situated to maintain continuity."

In addition to these aesthetic qualities, timber is easier to work with. "For builders, timber is a much friendlier material than steel," said Joe Monaco, Monaco Hickey Group. "It is more flexible and less noisy, and does not have to be fabricated offsite."




At Eastern Precinct Student Centre, timber is both beautiful and functional in the hard landscape elements. "Timber is ideally suited to these applications," said Phil Gardiner, Managing Director, Irwinconsult. "The decking and outdoor furniture facilitate interaction between students and staff because they are comfortable and pleasant to look at and touch."

The recycled Blackbutt used for the external seating is a feature of the space, and the solid Spotted Gum decking is strong and durable, as well as attractive to look at. "I specified the Spotted Gum for the cladding for its varied colour and grain," said Troy Thirlwell, Project Architect, Cox Architects and Planners. "It is a distinctive timber that visually stands out."



A natural flow between the external and internal spaces was achieved through using similar colours and grains; for example, Spotted Gum veneer joinery blends with the solid Spotted Gum external cladding. "Veneer is a more economical and sustainable use of timber," said Troy Thirlwell, Project Architect, Cox Architects and Planners.

"The pale colours in Hoop Pine make it ideal for the ceilings and internal walls with a whitewash finish. Being lightweight it lends itself to sheet modular construction in large areas, and it can be perforated for acoustic benefits."

Also low in weight, recycled Messmate was specified (for the lining boards and timber screens) for its historical patina.


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