Text description provided by the architects. This project forms part of the revitalisation of RMIT University’s public realm, transforming under-utilised spaces into a vivid and welcoming place. This is achieved at Rodda Lane by stitching together the warren of back-of-house laneways to provide a new focal point to the city campus through the addition of outdoor flexible spaces to improve student amenity.
The brief for the project called to improve the amenity of the laneway precinct within the RMIT city campus by bringing together a series of left-over, disparate, and disjointed spaces (between Bowen, La Trobe and Swanston Streets) while reflecting RMIT’s culture, and considering the rich heritage of the site.
The design response centers around two courtyards that act as anchors for social activity in the precinct. New custom seating and pergola-like shade structures are set among planters along with increased lighting to improve the outdoor student experience. These courtyards are joined by tight narrow laneways with impressive vertical volumes: new seating and lighting in these corridors seek to accentuate the existing spaces while providing new places to dwell. The multiple urban infrastructures allow for diverse spaces and use (in order that not one space is dominated by a particular user). All of these design strategies contribute to increased campus safety.
The project extends the fabric of the city into the campus, bringing the quintessential laneway experience of Melbourne into the university. Amid the backdrop of a context steeped in rich architectural significance, the design approach seeks to introduce a new identity to the ground plane. To create a sense of place and cohesion, a strong singular palette was used to glue these spaces together. Hues of blue, light-grey and white act as a contrasting counterpoint to the existing palette. This strengthens an attachment to place for users. Recently onsite at Rodda Lane, Sibling witnessed entwined lovers, a manga drawing club, security patrols, a new-born puppy being taken out for a frolic, and students passing through, all in one hour. The project offers an exploration of how in-between spaces become spaces of celebration through their joyous occupation.
Legible orientation is also important for more welcoming and safer spaces. A rhythmic pattern of directional custom concrete paving and light provides wayfinding to the campus, signaling a sense of movement, speed and stimulation on the ground surface. The paving turns into a concentric zone, prompting inhabitants to enter the void and pause in these social spaces. The paving patterns are projected above to custom perforated shade structures and flip up to extend onto vertical surfaces, creating seating loops that form places of habitation. As people move to the centre of the Rodda Lane upgrade, other viewpoints are revealed, enhancing perceptions of safety with strong sightlines.
The project’s materiality is utilitarian, durable, protective and low maintenance providing long-term value for the client. It creates a more usable and activated public domain, increased campus safety and outdoor student experience, through clear and dedicated wayfinding while helping connect the campus in a meaningful way back to the city. This project highlights the importance of the shared public realm spaces within a university campus, and in particular the importance of outdoor spaces in a post-COVID-19 environment. These spaces are the glue that is responsible for tying together disparate spaces and students together in order that everyone can enjoy their on-campus experience.