Monash University's Peninsula campus in Frankston has recently unveiled a new building. Designed by Harmer Architecture, it is part of the university's master plan to reinvigorate the campus. Between the physiotherapy building and the union, the architects were given a relatively modest parcel of land (22 x 45 metres) to work with.
"Eventually, the physiotherapy building will be demolished and this one will become more prominent from the western approach," says architect Philip Harmer, director of the practice.
Harmer's brief for the activity and recreation centre included rooms for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, biophysics, early childhood studies, as well as sport and outdoor recreation.
Although the program was extensive, Harmer was keen to reduce the scale. Travelling along the Monash Freeway, Harmer was distracted by the suburban patchwork of roofs.
The facade of the recreation centre is an abstraction from photographs of these roofs, in their range of colours from blue grey to charcoal and terracotta. But instead of using roof tiles, Harmer clad the facade with bricks designed by the practice. Each double-height brick has a bevelled surface, further animating the building's facade. Each brick was individually numbered and coded to ensure a "camouflaged" effect.
"The idea was to reduce the scale of the building, but we also wanted to strengthen the connection to the community who also use these facilities," Harmer says.
Harmer Architecture designed the recreation and teaching centre as two interconnected wings. The recreation centre, clad in bricks, contains two end-to-end basketball courts, as well as ancillary facilities. Harmer included wide bands of plywood around the periphery and bands of polycarbonate sheets allow natural light to permeate. Automatically controlled louvres expunge hot air in the warmer months. "Our brief included delivering a five-star green star rating," Harmer says.
Complementing the recreation centre, designed for netball as well as indoor soccer, is a three-level building containing all the teaching rooms. Clad in a variety of materials, including timber and perforated aluminium, this wing also features a generous balcony on the top level, with extensive treetop views of the campus.
"There are obvious references to the trees. But we were mindful of creating a pleasurable outdoor space for those using the adjacent space on the top level," he says.
The interior of this teaching facility is both complex and what Harmer refers to as "humane".
"We reject minimalism in our office. It's not about uniformity or endless white walls that take you nowhere in terms of spirit. From the outset, we weren't going to deliver an 'institutional'-style building."
The foyer/lobby illustrates that approach. Stained-glass windows frame the entrance and vibrant colours appear in the interior. Lights in the form of dumb-bells, suggest the building's use, while a bench in the foyer takes the form of a propeller, suggesting Harmer's other love, flying aeroplanes.
"There should be that similar exhilaration in architecture, of taking off and entering new territory," Harmer says.