Arts West redevelopment – University of Melbourne’s most significant infrastructure project

by Tiffany Paczek
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The University of Melbourne’s Arts West Building underwent a redevelopment that saw a ground-breaking use of steel used in its new façade. Together with ARM Architecture, Architectus and Fab Metal Specialists, Valmont Coatings Australia has won the Global Galvanizing Award for the project.

Managing director of Valmont Coatings Aaron King says, “[As there were] 36 projects submitted from 13 different countries, we are thrilled [our] project has taken out this prestigious international award.”

The $66 million Arts West redevelopment project was one of the University of Melbourne’s most significant infrastructure projects in recent years.

A major component of the Arts West redevelopment project was the renovation of the university’s Faculty of Arts building on Macleod Road. The new building, constructed over seven levels on Professors Walk opposite the heritage Old Arts Faculty Building, provides the University’s Arts Precinct with a dedicated, high-quality teaching and learning environment.

ARM and Architectus worked with the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts to tailor the building so that it reflects the latest pedagogical thinking as applied in the Faculty of Arts curricula. In an era when campuses must offer something beyond online study, Arts West’s spaces are tailored to project-based collaborative, interactive, seminar, discursive and didactic modes of teaching and learning.

Image © John Gollings

Arts West Building © John Gollings

One of the most stunning and distinctive visual features of the new Faculty of Arts building is its louvered façade, which involved a ground-breaking use of steel. The building effectively has two skins: a glass wall and a structure of parallel horizontal steel fins or louvres – resembling deep exterior Venetian blinds. The façade is both a passive solar-control element and an architectural manifestation of the Faculty of Arts.

The steel sections of each louvre were shaped so that they form a series of 3D images. The images are ‘pressed’ into the façade and reveal themselves to viewers at different times of the day and from different viewpoints. The images feature selected objects from the University of Melbourne’s 23 Cultural Collections.

arts west

According to King, the project team opted to galvanise the louvres to protect the steel from corrosion and add visual appeal. “The fins on the façade serve two main purposes, to provide sun shading to the tall glass curtain wall behind and to house images of objects from the University’s Cultural Collections,” he says.

“The steel plate was laser cut in plan to form the negative relief of the images. Utilising steel for the purpose of sun shading is reasonably unique, as many buildings with a second skin use aluminium instead. Steel was chosen as it allowed us to use very thin steel, only eight millimetres, which performed well in shading the teaching spaces, but also allowed minimal interruptions looking out.”

“Galvanising is – of course – a wonderful way to protect steelwork, but they also liked the mottled and crystalline effects that galvanising provided. It will change over time, from a bright reflective material to a dull grey. Galvanising provided the façade with the kind of raw surface that the project team was after,” says King.


Louvred steel façade, Arts West Building

Valmont Coatings coated 480 individual steel sections in zinc prior to their delivery to the University of Melbourne construction site. Valmont Coatings’ plant in suburban Campbellfield, north of the Melbourne CBD, completed each batch of the galvanised steel louvres within an average turnaround of two to three working days in the plant.

The Global Galvanizing Award is presented by the European General Galvanizers Association (EGGA) every three years for outstanding hot-dip galvanised steel architecture.

Lead image © Warick Baker

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