It’s always been surprising that so much of our CBD’s outskirts have been desolate and undeveloped. But the City of Melbourne’s major landowner, RMIT University, is giving the city’s north-western fringe a major overhaul. And part of this involves more space for having fun.

RMIT’s new, eyebrow-raising $1.2 million project features basketball courts and a recreation area, and is now open to students and members of the public. While the term “pop-up” seems to be used a lot across retail and dining venues, RMIT’s decision to make the space temporary sparks interest beyond the student community and leaves the space open for future development.

The creative mind behind the project, architect Peter Elliott, has collaborated with the university on other jobs, so was a natural choice for the job. But the most striking aspect of the build is the bold, paint-splattered murals by Ash Keating. RMIT brought the celebrated Melbourne artist on board after his epic, large-scale works were featured in this year’s Melbourne Now.

Not only do the courts provide a stomping ground for the university’s expanding student population, they also offer more open interaction with the public and city environment. Peter Elliott explains that the venue responds to a growing need for more leisure facilities for students. “RMIT university, being in the city, has very few sport facilities,” he says. “They were very aware of there not being any close spaces where students could go to let off a bit of steam.”

Arriving at the venue, which officially opened last Thursday, you’re immediately struck by the bright colours in this unexpected corner of the city. The blue and red basketball courts sit next to an Astroturf green space scattered with seating, table tennis, planters and barbeques. Stewart Street, which forms the corner with A’Beckett Street, has been blocked off, allowing tables to fill the street for the newly opened cafes.

Colour is used in lieu of plants and trees, with the main highlight being Keating’s murals. The artist created the hazy green paint walls in his signature technique, spraying acrylic from pressurised fire extinguishers.

Behind the basketball courts is the second aspect of Keating’s contribution: a 60-square-metre backdrop that stands out from the wall, a surface of bright, psychedelic colours that was created by letting paint pool on wood. The effect is something like the vibrant photographs of Yann Arthus-Bertrand from Earth From Above, an inspiration for Keating in the project, who explains that in creating the murals, “The gravity and the movement of the paint forms replicate the look of an aerial landscape. I’m trying to create the sublime.”

The space counteracts the jungle of newly built residential and commercial buildings that loom over the area. Something Keating was aware of in his involvement. “You’ve got all this space being turned into boutique towers and I don’t see a great deal of effort to counteract that,” he says.

The project is particularly pertinent now, at a time of increasing criticism of developers and the lack of Government policy to regulate them. What RMIT can offer in this equation, as a university, is urban solutions that aren’t purely driven by profits. Focusing instead on the potential for engagement with residents and visitors. This becomes even more important for an institution so highly regarded as leaders in design, research and innovation. “It’s interesting that a university, as opposed to a private development, can create a dialogue about these urban spaces,” says Keating.

It’s a bold move for RMIT, but one that comes at a time when there are virtually no recreational spaces in Melbourne’s CBD. The pop-up venue is a welcome addition to the cityscape and is sure to be a hit in the summertime, attracting professional and amateur sportspeople alike. “It won’t be too long until really good street basket ballers conglomerate in the space and take it over!” Keating says grinning.

RMIT A'Beckett Urban Square is on the corner of A'Beckett Street and Stewart Street.