JOURNAL/ Education/2018


Vertical Campus Design

A new typology for working and learning

The education and work environments are two of the most important spaces people inhabit every day.

In this issue of Journal, we explore the vertical campus, a typology for working and learning that increases density, productivity, connectivity, collaboration and flexibility to help us live better, more efficient lives.

The education and work environments are two of the most important spaces people inhabit every day.

In this issue of Journal, we explore the vertical campus, a typology for working and learning that increases density, productivity, connectivity, collaboration and flexibility to help us live better, more efficient lives.


ICI House: Australia's First Skyscraper

 “A timeless classic.”

Tim Leslie

Studio Director, Bates Smart

ICI House, currently known as Orica House, is considered Australia’s first skyscraper. Finished in 1958 and designed by Bates Smart, the glazed curtain wall tower set the precedent for modern vertical workplace design.

Nearly 60 years later, this precedent still stands—ICI is a highly sought-after workplace due to its slim, flexible floorplates and classic design, outlasting many of its modernist counterparts and paving the way for the contemporary vertical campus.

The 19 storey tower, not formally part of the CBD’s Hoddle Grid, was allowed to break Melbourne’s 40m height restrictions. Instead of building a shorter tower over the entire area, the design team proposed a slimmer footprint that vertically stacked the additional allowable area, creating a taller tower and a ground level garden setting. The incorporation of the garden enabled the height rule to be broken while simultaneously creating a beautiful public space at street level.

Inside, the Bates Smart team continued to revolutionise the tower workplace typology by pulling the services core to the side of the building, making the slender 18m floorplate effectively core-less and highly flexible. An open stair, located between the core and floorplate, created vertical connectivity. The continuous ribbon glazing of the curtain wall maximised views to the outside and enabled daylight to flood the interior. The design team also integrated amenity spaces—including a games room, cafeteria and rooftop promenade—to create places where workers could relax and work informally, a concept that is highly valued in contemporary workplaces.

The building was also one of the first successful exercises in modularity. Standardised glazing, the innovative use of precast concrete flooring panels, and entirely modular furnishings helped cut construction time and costs. Like the side core, the modularisation helped Orica House achieve high efficiencies and flexibility without sacrificing architectural integrity or beauty.

Orica House set the bar for efficient and timeless workplace design in Australia. Its flexible floorplates, views of Melbourne, access to daylight, and modularity have helped the tower stand the test of time and remain in high demand.

Bates Smart's Melbourne office serves as proof to these claims. The studio relocated to Orica House in 2001, and the building received the Enduring Architecture award at the AIA Victorian Architecture Awards in 2013.

The building’s open plan nature—and all the benefits associated with it—have helped the practice flourish in one of its most iconic designs.

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Case Studies on University Character

 “Bring the site up and through the vertical campus.”

Philip Vivian

Director, Bates Smart

Translating a university’s personality to its built space is one of the biggest challenges faced when designing campus facilities. For a vertical campus, this process starts at the front door, where the connection between a building’s interior and its collegiate surroundings is usually strongest.

Bringing the Street Inside
A design vision for Sydney's UTS IT & Engineering Building concisely illustrates this thinking, where the design team brought in the faculty’s hands-on, fast learning and teaching techniques via a vertical laneway that looked and flowed like a street. Circulation was pulled to the edge of the floorplate and stepped between levels to form the laneway. It was then encased in glass, creating a dramatic, diagonal four storey void that’s visible from Broadway, the street that hems in the site.

The building’s void and the gathering spaces go vertical above level four through the rest of the building’s floorplates to complete the interior street. Because the interior street and the exterior road visually connect, they also feed off of each other’s energy, drawing UTS’ kinetic spirit into the vertical campus building.

Creating an Interior Mall and Path

The renovated UNSW School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering plays off the campus’ formal paths and malls to activate the building. Prior to its renovation, the faculty had been spread across two neighbouring but disjointed buildings. The design solution united these two facilities through a linking third building. A new central stair creates cohesion between the buildings, the pedestrian lane that bounds the site, internal circulation, open lift lobbies and new teaching and staff areas. Its design mirrors UNSW’s campus design at a reduced scale, creating an interior path and mall system that connects back to the university’s exterior malls and pedestrian routes.

New Verticality, Old Campus Grounds

At the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, a different design idea deployed a kit of workplace parts and cluster options in order to introduce a vertical campus into the university’s cloistered grounds.

Central to the building’s design was the integration of USyd's courtyard typology. The courtyard was pulled to the front of the building and reinterpreted as an active social heart. Its front glass facade enveloped one face of the adjacent historic, red brick RD Watt building, bringing USyd’s established architectural style directly inside. The space between formed the actual heart, and a contemporary spiralling stair vertically connected the flexible floorplates to the space. A series of layered spatial zones designated for different types of work stacked from the courtyard back into the floorplate, increasing in privacy through its depth, much like the campus' cloisters.

All three designs approached vertical campus from very different perspectives, but they helped transition the academic facilities so that they fit within each campus design. No matter the context, bringing overarching campus characteristics into and up through a vertical campus design can help knit the new typology into its established surroundings.

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Navitas Hyde Park, Sydney

 “Connectivity is at the Heart of Navitas.”

Kellie Payne

Studio Director, Bates Smart

Sydney’s new Navitas campus, located in the CBD, exemplifies vertical campus design. Instead of spreading out, it stacks up, bringing together facilities for six different education business units over 14 floors in a repurposed office building.

In Navitas’ previous location, different business units were located in the same building. Each tailored its own space to fit its own needs, a strategy that undercut Navitas’ ability to respond to changing market dynamics and learning and teaching styles. The new campus works because its design shares teaching, collaborative and administrative spaces across business units.

Two Hearts at the Centre of the Design
The design team began by introducing standardised space layouts and reworking the existing vertical stack to maximise density, collegiality and sharing. They used the site’s two contrasting sides—the bustling Elizabeth Street park site to the east and the quieter CBD landscape to the west—to program the building and zone each floor. Dual central hubs, known as hearts, hook into these building sides and organise both on-floor and floor-to-floor circulation.

Active hearts accommodate high volume, collaborative activity and overlook green Hyde Park. On the lower levels, they align with the building’s main Elizabeth Street entrance and its three-level atrium, complete with a void and social spiral stair. The open design and physical connectivity creates buzzing space, setting the campus’ collegial tone. Multiple vertical connections, including the stair, move people up to the active lower teaching floors.

On upper levels—combined teaching and staff floors—receptions, collaborative workspaces, kitchenettes, and informal gathering places also align to the active hearts. These are vibrant spaces which encourage socialising, conversation and informal peer-to-peer learning.

Quiet hearts are located on the opposite side of the central core and also align from floor to floor up the height of the building. On lower floors, these hearts break apart high volume classrooms, giving students space to gather. On upper floors, they are nestled among the classrooms and overlook the neighbouring CBD towers to support quiet studying and one-on-one meetings. Their classroom adjacency also means they can be used for classroom “flips,” whereby students work in small groups that are still connected to nearby formal teaching spaces.

Flexibility Built into Standardisation
With the hearts in place, the design team tackled the campus’ program, dividing it into three zones defined by standardisation and flexibility.

Larger, high volume classrooms occupy the building’s lower levels. They are designed with moveable furniture and technology to accommodate all teaching and learning styles. Individual business units occupy the upper floors. These levels are programmed with smaller modular classrooms and staff offices organised around the hearts. The library, located on level 8, transitions between these distinct zones and serves as the building’s social centre. Collaborative breakouts, meeting rooms, and quiet study nooks and corrals surround the floor’s hearts, and reference materials and online workstations are placed along the floor perimeter.

Holistically, the building’s spatial mix and flexibility allow each business unit to occupy the right amount and kind of spaces its needs in real time. This, in turn, improves Navitas’ bottom line and further increases resource sharing and student and staff interaction across business units. By prioritising vertical connectivity, zoned activity, and standardised-yet-flexible space design, Navitas has created a new kind of campus for its business, one that fits changing marketplace and learning dynamics.

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The Value of 'Thin Air'

 “Stairs and voids create ‘thin air’ that’s an asset, not a cost.”

Philip Vivian

Director, Bates Smart

Voids and stairs are central to the function of the vertical campus. However, these elements must be carved into most leasable floorplates, essentially creating ‘thin air’ in perfectly good occupiable space. Taken at face value, the real, calculable cost of this space may not seem justifiable, but without it, the vertical campus cannot reach its full potential.

Design Elements

 “Stairs are an object of beauty.”

Brenton Smith

Director, Bates Smart

When designed well, an elegant stair becomes a significant sculptural focal point within a space. Here we’ve pulled together some of our most eye catching designs.


Row 1: Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Sydney; Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Melbourne
Row 2: Australian Embassy, Washington D.C.; Constitution Place, Canberra
Row 3: Vicinity Centres, Melbourne; Primary Health Care, Sydney
Row 4: Crown Metropol, Melbourne; Clayton Utz Head Office, Sydney

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