Arts West, The University of Melbourne, Victoria

Designed by: ARM Architecture and Architectus
For client: University of Melbourne Floor area: 8500.00 M² Year of completion: 2016
Nominated for: Learning Space of the Year

Arts West Atrium
© John Gollings

The Atrium is part indoor, part outdoor. The collonades that form an external cloister continue inside and meld into the staircase, whose configuration was inspired by images of fictitious staircases and drawbridges by Piranesi. Its felt upholstery is a practical acoustic solution, but it recalls Joseph Beuys’ felt-covered grand piano work entitled Homogenous Infiltration for Piano (1966). The red Turkish marble flooring is a version of that in the Parthenon.

About the Project

Arts West is a campus landmark, inside and out.

ARM and Architectus worked with the Faculty of Arts to tailor the building for object-based learning, as applied in the Faculty curricula. The learning spaces are customised for exhibiting and studying items from the University’s 23 cultural collections. The interior architecture, textiles and finishes set the scene with a rich mash-up of cultures, times, places and ideas.

The circulation spaces are filled with inspiring places for group and individual study, charging devices, and learning efficiently outside contact hours. These in-between places are for serendipitous encounters with academic staff and fellow students.

The interior design theme is dubbed the Salon and Warehouse. The Warehouse character is raw and rough-hewn: there are concrete slab floors, exposed studs in breakout spaces, exposed slab undersides, ceramic iron lining on walls and balustrades, and concrete-tiled staircases. The low lighting evokes early 20th-Century industrial spaces: moody, mysterious and discoverable. By contrast, the Salon refers to private gatherings held by educated and often aristocratic hosts and hostesses in 16th to 20th-Century Europe. It is a modern take on the 16th-Century Kunst und Wunderkammer, a collection of spaces displaying an encyclopaedic array of objects and artefacts to represent the world of study and knowledge.

The striking façade features images of selected University collection items.

What’s unique about it

Arts West has advanced educational interior-design practice by addressing a crucial issue: as online learning proliferates, how can tertiary institutions attract students onto campus?

The interior spaces go far beyond facilitating their teaching and learning usages. The building both displays objects from the University’s cultural collections, and augments students’ experience of viewing and studying them by making statements and references of its own. Arts West is tailored to the unique collection it houses: it could exist nowhere else and for nobody else. Every finish, every colour, every material contributes to a specific environment (an urban jungle, a conservatory, a Bedouin tent).

The spaces set the scene for a new educational typology: a contemporary version of salon learning involving informal exchange and celebration of cultural and intellectual intelligence. The thought-provoking, patterned environment is curated to highlight connections in time and place from ancient Greece to 21st-Century Australia, from classical studies to fashion, technology and digital imaging.

Arts West is very popular: the breakout spaces are always busy and students have voted it the best selfie location on campus. #ArtsWest

“We have been overwhelmed by how our students and the university community have embraced the building…an innovative, creative and fun place that opens people’s minds to the rich possibilities of an arts education.”—Joanne Ligouris, University of Melbourne

Arts West Facade
© ARM Architecture, Architectus, Warwick Baker,

Arts West's striking façade features images of objects from the University of Melbourne’s 23 cultural collections. The images are cut into the horizontal steel fins that surround the building. To design and document them, we pioneered 3D virtual modelling techniques by adapting gaming software. The images illustrate and symbolise the object-based learning that happens inside.

Object Based Learning Lab
© John Gollings

The Object-based Learning Lab layout is based on 16th-century anatomy theatres. The walls are lined with faceted display cases, which are individually lit so lecturers can highlight or hide objects during discussion. The ceiling is wallpapered in pressed tin, used commonly in the Victorian era.

The Galleria
© John Gollings

The Galleria has hand-painted ceramic flooring based on recently discovered 16th-century Italian Renaissance floor patterns. The wallpaper is inspired by the 17th-Century Hampton Court Palace maze. The richly woven jacquard curtains were commissioned for the renewal of St James’s Palace (originally constructed during Henry VIII reign of the 16th century).

Urban Jungle
© John Gollings

The Urban Jungle is a breakout space in an imagined world. There is rainbow-pattern dyed timber flooring with densely foliaged fantasy-forest wallpaper, buckle-up beanbags and suspended torch-like lighting. It’s a camp-site scene for group study.

The Boardroom
© Warwick Baker

The Boardroom celebrates tartan. The wallpaper is by Vivienne Westwood and we commissioned carpet to match. Tartan’s weave exploits intersecting lines and colours that don’t usually go together. For us, it illustrates an ideology of inclusiveness—a sewing together of generations, cultures and beliefs.

The Parlour
© Warwick Baker

The Parlour wallpaper takes its inspiration from rich silk-clad walls in various historic palaces. The carpet has traces of yellow but the grey evokes images of abandoned buildings in decay. There is a quirky juxtaposition between the exquisite silk of bygone eras and the 21st-Century carpet, which is made from recycled fishing nets.

Warehousey Breakout Space
© John Gollings

Exposed studs and low light exemplify the warehouse aspect of our Salon and Warehouse theme in this corridor study space. Fold-out tables on the noggins contain charging points.

Reconfigurable Breakout Space
© Architectus

This learning space can be reconfigured for collaborative, interactive, discursive and didactic modes of teaching and learning. The custom-designed carpet documents the various set-ups.

Students Have Voted Arts West The Best Selfie Location On Campus
© Various photographers. Montage by ARM Architecture

Students have voted Arts West the best selfie location on campus. #artswest

Location of project:
ARM Architecture


Kane Constructions


Bryce Raworth Pty Ltd


McKenzie Group Consulting

New Learning Environments

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