“Agnostic” is not a word often used to describe buildings, but it’s the favourite of Woods Bagot’s Georgia Singleton in relation to the Charter Hall/Western Sydney Universities ’s 14 storey “vertical campus” in Parramatta, known as 1PSQ (One Parramatta Square).
Singleton says other universities are flocking to look at it because it is the way of the future.
Singleton, who is the firm’s director and global education and science leader, says the five star Green Star rated Architectus-designed building and its Woods Bagot interiors is “course agnostic” meaning it does not belong to any course.
“It could be architecture, it could be maths. It’s about how you create a space that’s a vessel for the next generations of learners, for multiple typologies – the sciences as well as creative arts, so that they can happen together within the space of each other.”
The idea is to allow for more conversation and serendipity in learning
It is, if you like, not a “siloed” approach like that of a traditional university with separate faculties, but a “terrain approach”, with a blurring of boundaries.
The idea is like that of MIT, which was designed so architects and engineers could work together, allowing for more conversation and serendipity in learning, informal spaces, teaching spaces and labs as well as “social glue” spaces where anything could happen.
Libraries have disappeared so we need an alternative
Libraries have disappeared, so quiet individual spaces in the “digitally infused” campus are needed.
Meanwhile, the triangular atrium (with natural light) is the noisy communal space, with all floors porous and interconnected, and there’s a garden floor so people can be outside for seven months a year.
The spaces are “agile” enough to change over time, and for short periods of time, Singleton says.
The ground floor is public, “given back to the people in Parramatta”.
It does not have security, and people can walk through it like a laneway, which also allows students working late to keep going: restaurants and other entertainment spaces and public art ensure it’s “really alive at night”.
Interiors – sophisticated and playful
The interiors are “sophisticated but still playful and colourful” (they are colour themed on different floors, through soft furnishings and some other highlights) and a little raw with a “few kooky homely bits”, such as a series of five timber collaborative elearning pods on each floor.
Each can accommodate about 50 students at nine tables with six around each, and one screen per table where they can learn from their peers. A teacher can stand in the middle of the room, and lecture for a bit, so it’s like theatre in the round.
Lecture theatres are a thing of the past, and the best lectures are on-line at the moment, says Singleton. “We’ve had the most amazing feedback. All other universities have come to see it – it’s a unique environment in the tertiary world and very bold of Western Sydney University to do it.
“Other universities that have high rise are like office blocks for students, while this is a campus with an office component above, an exciting mix between a workplace and a university. They wanted to be entrepreneurial.
“We had to separate the office lobby from the student entry, so it opens onto Macquarie street and we put the students’ entry on the Parramatta Square side, the plaza side – they don’t need the drop off and they come in there from the train on the plaza side, so we are borrowing the space from the outside.”
Sustainability is a key focus
The building has a five star Green Star rating and “green everything” – all natural materials, from sustainable recycled flooring up, but meeting the criteria was also a natural outcome of being concerned about well-being.
“We do we try to achieve a wellness by creating joy and connecting to biophilia, and in turn that creates a better learning environment.”