DOWNLOAD: RMIT Design Hub Drawings (PDF)
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So the building isn't open yet but that gives us the opportunity to ignore architecture for a minute and talk about the building in the city.
Melbourne is a grid city. This means quite a lot. It doesn't have axes, in the École des Beaux-Arts sense.
The grid is meant to be unyielding but permissive, democratic, pragmatic, mute.
Despite this, much has been made of the Swanston Street Axis, from the point that it nudges around the Shrine of Remembrance, to it's kink at the former CUB site. It's hard to resist drawing that line through the site, continuing Swanston Street into eternity.
Sean Godsell resisted that temptation.
His RMIT Design Hub is just another building in the city. Apparently.
So let's look at it.
The Building holds the corner. The 'front door' is off the corner on Victoria Street. Retail Voodoo (which seems to infect everything) would insist on a diagonal corner entry, denying the street as address and implying that people are incapable of finding an entry that is around the corner. So Godsell's entry affirms the streetfront as proper for addressing the street.
Swanston Street, however, is a different matter.
The mass of the building runs into the street, providing neither street front, nor formal relief. This is a wall (a nice climbable one, but a sheer wall nonetheless). This is a rejection of the city and a profoundly anti-urban gesture.
The finished floor level (FFL) at the Victoria Street entry is FFL 23.50, internally a ramp follows the natural incline of Swanston Street as it heads north. I only raise the ramp because it brings us to the northern 'servicemen's entry' to the building at FFL 25.10. Past this entry, a stair descends rapidly to the sunken forecourt.
Back on Victoria Street, to the immediate west of the building is the primary approach to the forecourt which bottoms out at SSL 19.70. The building privileges this forecourt. It has art in it.
Adjacent to the forecourt is a low shed housing offices and archives and beyond that a vehicle ramp to carparking below. This gives us a total of 31metres of negative street front on Victoria Street, which, if your a Melburnian, you will recall isn't 5th Avenue.
Beyond the RMIT design hub is a wasteland where the brewery once stood. Grocon have been developing their interests for site over several years, NH Architecture prepared a masterplan which formed the DNA of the current development plans. Planning permits have been issued. Which is why it's a strange site to see a 5metre south facing concrete wall (it will apparently have greenery) at the northern end of Design Hub site. This wall frustrates potential connection through the site as does the archival building, sunken court, and vehicle ramp. This is articulate urban isolation, deliberate and composed.
The attitude that this might be a building in the city is a good one, and has strong arguments in favour of it over the will to axial urban design. However, this building is not one seeking to engage the street and by extension the city. It negates the messy convulsions of the city but fails to offer fresh conditions.
One can't help but wonder if Godsell wasn't hoping for something a little more...