Walter Boas

Summary

WALTER BOAS
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Type: Institutional Fitout
Size: 2400 sq m
Status: Construction

Description

The key nature of the project is to provide an engaging environment for postgraduate students to work in. The Architects and project team sought to create internal public spaces that would allow meaningful relief from the inevitable burden faced by postgraduate students of long periods of intense concentration. At the commencement of the design process these public spaces preoccupied discussion within the design group as it was conceived that these areas would be transformed into zones of informal learning: an 'urban' interior that celebrates collegiality and the serendipitous encounter as critical to shared research. These urban interiors then link the private study rooms and offices that will be home to up to 180 research and doctorate students from the faculties of Arts and Engineering.

The building was originally designed in 1945 by the Department of Works and Housing and was originally named the Tribophysics building for the CSIR, later to become CSIRO. Built in the 1950s, the building was later renamed the Walter Boas building in recognition of Walter Boas (1904 – 1982), a respected researcher and academic at the University of Melbourne, who was tenured from 1938 until his retirement in the 1970s. The original three storey building was constructed using a structural steel frame which was then concrete encased. This hybrid frame holds up the decorative brickwork and stonework that gives the building its restrained classic and art deco styling. The interior detailing is minimal with subtle flourishes on the art-deco stair handrail detailing. During the 1970s and 1980s a Mansard shaped metal deck roof was added. During this time the respected Melbourne Architect Peter Elliot refurbished the second and fourth floors of the building to allow for contemporary office spaces. The first and third floors are currently in their original 1950s condition. WSH Architects focused on preserving the heritage qualities of the original 1950s Walter Boas building while allowing for experimentation and research into contemporary design techniques and theory. There was thus focus on preserving the majority of the heritage details by aligning ceiling and built-in furniture with the original architectural geometries. The new lighting is focused upwards to highlight the tall ceilings, deep beams and delicate cornices. Up-lighting was also used to create a softer ambience that would be less austere than the typical contemporary educational fluorescent lighting schemes. The existing walls and ceilings will be painted white and the new architectural insertions will be generally painted in richer colours. This juxtaposition will thus allow the new architecture to be distinct yet complimentary to the heritage work.

WSH Architects foregrounds its design work in digital craft. The Walter Boas project commenced with computer software scripting that generated circular arrays of rooms that would act as the spatial enclosures for the new programmes and uses. For instance, on the ground floor a circular array of boxes linked the front entry of the new Terrace Lounge (image 1) to the rear Airlock. This array was then rationalised into a series of stepped terraces and ramps that allowed equal access for all, including wheelchair and pram access, from the higher front entry to the new rear entry. The ceiling panels are a mirror image of the stepped terraces and reflect a spatial enclosure that creates smaller and more intimate zones for relaxation and study for groups of students. The terracing allows the room to be used for small in-depth group discussion or to act as an amphitheatre for larger exhibitions and lecturers. The colour scheme is also generated using computer scripting. Using the major colours found in the painter Monet's 'Walerlilies' series of paintings (purples, pinks, greens), HATZ Architects extracted the colours and then inserted them into computer coding to create generative art paintings. These new paintings extended the colour schemes into hundreds of Photoshop/Flash rhythms that allowed the Architects to have maximum flexibility in allocating unique colour schemes to each floor. Scripting was used for the colour selection in order to remove the subjective taste-making that often occurs when designers are asked to design an interior. The aim was to obtain a more objective mathematical computer based system of generative artwork which would ultimately produce unique and unexpected outcomes.

The design also explores complex forms in the crafting of the rear airlock (image 2) and the Priority Office (image 3 – not yet available). WSH Architects has been developing a construction system that allows for the appearance of curvature through the use of rotating straight lines. These lines (called Ruled Surfaces) can be found in Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and is also a system used by ancient stone masons to construct curved stonework using regular straight rulers. This system is evident in the rotational window frames of the rear airlock that give the impression of curvature. The Walter Boas project is expected for completion in early 2011.

Credits

Design: HATZ
Design Team: Steve Hatzellis, Peter Muhlebach, Shyn Cheah, Alex Wilson, Shima Ghafouri
Project Manager: Rosemary O'Brien
Services: Meinhardt
Structural: Bonacci
BCA: Philip Chun
Builder: Harris HOE
QS: Wilde and Woollard

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