For several months now, Melburnians have been speculating about what exactly is going on within that glass-sequined monolith rising from the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets. Following its recent opening, we’ve finally been given the chance to explore architect Sean Godsell’s latest creation, the RMIT Design Hub.
The Design Hub is the newest addition to RMIT’s conspicuous suite of fascinating architectural sites that pepper postcode 3000. RMIT will now house all of its design research (from landscape to fashion to aerospace engineering) under the one roof, enveloped behind a façade of several hundred glass cells. The Hub’s program forms a processional route of alternating studio and exhibition spaces, where researchers are asked to spill the beans on their current design projects.
“It’s not about just showing research at the end, but also about the beginning, and the middle,” explains building curator Kate Rhodes. “Part of the role of the building is to find ways to get people from different disciplines talking.
“The Hub is also about seeing how design research has an impact in the real world.”
In fact, it’s the design-engaged public that are required to make this feedback loop work. So how do us mere mortals get our proverbial foot in the door? In early 2013, The Hub will be open for public perusal and will release its much anticipated events program, “which isn’t just about stuff being pinned up on walls,” smiles Rhodes. “There will be films, meals, bike rides, parades…it’s going to be the sort of place where you’ll leave exhausted after having been involved in workshops or forums and asked your opinion about what’s going on. It’s a new ask for audiences.”
People and their ideas are crucial to the equation, especially in a building that makes use of such austere materials. With an industrial palette of steel, concrete, glass and black rubber, each surface – whether vertical or horizontal – has been conceived as a potential backdrop for exhibiting. “Once you start adding work and people, the building gives itself up and settles into the background,” offers Rhodes.
Despite the unabashed repetitiveness of The Hub’s façade, the internal spaces and circulation routes are a chain of unexpected moments, glimpses and vistas. The experience of the glass cell façade from the inside – and consequent glimpses of the world beyond – are constantly evolving. The cells respond to the intensity of the sun, opening up on a dull day and shutting down on a sunnier one, to decrease the building’s reliance on artificial light. It is anticipated that the cells will be fitted with photovoltaic film in the near future to make the building completely self-reliant. Until then, “the balletic movement of the cells as they open and close”, as Rhodes eloquently puts it, will have to suffice in reminding us that the building is breathing and responding to its environment.
At first glance, passing by the Design Hub may feel a bit like being given the cold shoulder. As a building that champions transparency between spaces on the inside, it seems quite an ironic turn of events to prevent any glimpses into the building from street level, particularly along Swanston Street.
Turning the corner onto Victoria Street, one may spill into the site upon discovery of the generous forecourt, housing a recently opened cafe and public entrances to various exhibition spaces.
Many new buildings – particularly those with seemingly impenetrable facades – tend to fit the mantra of being nice once you get to know them. At the risk of eschewing a relationship with street life, the Design Hub has certainly retained RMIT’s brave pattern of indulging in ambitious design concepts – showing their commitment to new ideas and putting faith in the designer. Despite its confronting interface, the Design Hub is certainly a place to intrigue, surprise and welcome the curious by nature.