History to the fore in redesign of elite college

Architects remain true to the heritage of Ormond College, writes Stephen Crafti.

Architects remain true to the heritage of Ormond College, writes Stephen Crafti.

In 1879 architect Joseph Reed, responsible for the State Library and Exhibition Building, made his mark at Melbourne University with the Quad Building at Ormond College.

Decades later, Reed was joined by other illustrious architects including Harold Desbrowe Annear, Frederick Romberg, Roy Grounds, Robin Boyd and McGlashan & Everist, who have all contributed to the growth of the Melbourne University Campus.

"As an architect working today, you're extremely conscious of the great legacy surrounding you on the Ormond College grounds," says architect Kai Chen, a director of Lovell Chen Architects & Heritage Consultants.

Given a brief to work within Reed's building, a sandstone gothic revival pile, is both enviable for an architect, as well as challenging. "There's a huge responsibility not only to fulfil a brief, but also protect this heritage-listed building," says Chen. The brief included increasing accommodation for an additional 20 students on top of the 130 who already resided within the Quad Building, named after the quadrangle it encloses.

"The idea was to encourage students to stay with us for an extra year, something that would give senior students their own communal spaces as well," says Rufus Black, Master at Ormond College.

While it wasn't possible to find space beyond the chunky sandstone wall, there was ample room within the building's pitched roof to accommodate the additional 20 rooms. But the brief required more than simply beds in rooms.

"We wanted students to literally feel the history of those who attended decades before, see and touch the fabric," says Black, pointing out framed black-and-white photos of students who attended Ormond College in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Gas vents, clad in original timber, remain a feature of the corridors leading to the student rooms, located on the upper levels. Windows and timber trusses have also been retained, with new steel structures to ensure compliance with today's building requirements.

Many of the students' rooms also benefit from pitched ceilings, with dormer windows looking out to the grounds and the pinnacles which adorn Reed's building. Given the roof shape, Lovell Chen created six different configurations for the student rooms. Some are one level, while others have a mezzanine.

Although modest in size, these spaces are magical. The mezzanine style room, for example, features a spiral steel staircase, with light entering from dormer windows, as well as from a skylight nestled above a bed. And to ensure the rooms don't appear institutionalised, the furniture, designed by Chen, was conceived to move around and enable reconfiguration.

Book shelves, not directly attached to walls, can be arranged to suit the individual student. There's also the option of placing the desk at the lower level or at the foot of the bed. "This mirror can also go wandering. It's not fixed," says Chen.

To entice senior students to stay on that extra year at Ormond, Lovell Chen also created an impressive communal space in the tower. Once used for storage, it's now a flexible space with 360-degree views over Melbourne. "It's often used for small gatherings, or even celebrations. It's important that students make this their own space," says Black.

To ensure students don't have to continually climb up and down stairs, the architects included a galley-style kitchen to one side of the tower room, as well as bathroom facilities nearby.

And to give students an appreciation of the history of those who went before them, Chen designed a spiral sculpture. Made from timber oars, each one has been carefully inscribed by its owner.

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