RMIT New Academic Street

RMIT New Academic Street

“It’s not about a one-size-fits-all approach anymore…it’s about giving students the option to choose the sort of space they want to study in.”

Carey Lyon, Director of Lyons

The relationship between the life of Melbourne city and the life of RMIT city campus is intrinsically linked; they inform one another. Our design for RMIT New Academic Street (NAS) was an opportunity to shape student experience, and the experience of the city itself. We worked with RMIT to develop a distinctive urban design response, one that reinforces RMIT as a diverse, city-centric campus. A true product of collaboration, we worked with five architecture practices and RMIT alumni to create an interconnected campus.

This collaborative process allowed for a unique diversity in the architecture and enabled a design built by RMIT students, for RMIT students. The challenging civic site put limitations on our design, dictating that we build up, instead of sprawling out. To counterbalance this, our design incorporates aspects such as balconies, greenspaces and collaborative spaces. The design fundamentally impacts how students interact with both their campus and the Melbourne city, opening up new pathways into the heart of the university. The result is a cohesive design that creates a relationship between the street, university buildings and those who interact with the space.

  • Sector

    Education & Learning

  • Key Lyons contacts

    Carey Lyon
    Adam Pustola

  • Collaborators

    MvS Architects
    NMBW Architecture Studio
    Harrison & White
    Maddison Architects

  • Client

    RMIT University

  • Location

    Corner Franklin and Swanston Streets, Melbourne

  • Traditional land

    Located on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people

  • Size

    36,000 square metres

  • Sustainability

    5 star Green Star Interiors Design rating

  • Project status

    Complete, 2017


2018 Australian Institute of Architects Awards - VIC Chapter
    • The Joseph Reed award for Urban Design
    • Educational Architecture Award
    • The Allan and Beth Coldicutt award for Sustainable Architecture, Architecture Award
    • Melbourne Prize (joint winner with Nightingale 1)
    • Victorian Architecture Medal
2018 Awards - Melbourne
    • Wayfinding – Gold winner, Melbourne Design Awards

“[NAS] creates a new environment for students at RMIT. We’ll be in a world class facility that’s going to provide opportunities for students and staff to showcase what we do at RMIT. It will create a learning environment where students can really excel.”

Prof. Peter Coloe, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Science Engineering and Health at RMIT

“Students will be able to get far better infrastructure than what they’ve had. Some of the [original] buildings are rather tired, they turn away from Swanston Street. The NAS project will make that far better.”

Prof. Owen Hughes, Dean of Students (2011-2016)

“The real contribution of NAS? The variety of social and collaborative study spaces, the integration of cafes and other activities…this is all a best-practice approach to education”

Andrew Nimmo,
Architecture AU

the city


the Campus

Informed collaboration

For the design of NAS, we assembled a team of talented collaborators — all RMIT alumni. The team included MvS Architects, NMBW Architecture Studio, Harrison and White and Maddison Architects, along with landscape architects TCL. The challenge was to respect the existing architecture at RMIT and work together on a cohesive design for a modern university. Led by Lyons, together we explored and developed a response to individual design work that combined into an encounter of genuine architectural and educational diversity. The final outcome is a testament of our collaborative methodologies catering to the diverse needs of those who engage with the space. Speaking on the collaborative process, director and co-founder Carey Lyon said, “Just like the RMIT community, our design for NAS needed to be diverse and unique. Working as a team, yet assigned to specific aspects of the campus redevelopment, we felt working with a team of RMIT alumni architecture practices was the best course of action to accurately reflect the nuances and needs of staff, students and Melbourne city.”

Connecting the campus to the city

Our human centric design for RMIT New Academic Street sought to have a positive impact on everyone who engaged with the campus, from the students right through to the researchers. By creating laneways, gardens, new student spaces and better library facilities, our designs considered the practical needs of the environment in context of their broader contribution to the city.  

Bringing the educational life of the university directly into the space of the city, we designed NAS to make education visible from the street — opening up visual connections to new activity spaces. Major new stairs, light filled laneways and glass-topped arcades further enhance these connections to student learning, student services and study spaces. 

The transformation of NAS included a major expansion and reconfiguration of RMIT’s city campus library. We reduced book stacks by 50% and student study spaces increased by 200%, including places for solo study, noisy group work, quiet group work and social learning. These spaces respond to different educational ‘modes’ over the course of the semester, from project based learning groups in early weeks, to quiet individual study spaces prior to exams. The majority of these rooms are open for extended hours, providing opportunities for students to comfortably study on campus. 

Learning areas with floor to ceiling windows, outdoor balconies and access to landscaped rooftop gardens connect the students’ educational experience with the city skyline. We designed interior student portals across three levels for recreation and group work. The design of these open, communal spaces is inspired by the Forum Theatre, the State Library’s sprawling green lawn and where we facilitate our own learning, an architect’s design studio.


At the heart of NAS, we created a new student services hub; RMIT Connect. This integrated model for delivering student services uses technology to provide consultations with students on an individual ‘side by side’ or ‘person to person’ basis. We equipped this centralised service area with customer service style counters and self-help capabilities, streamlining student traffic and significantly reducing lines and waiting times.

NAS was an opportunity to develop ‘precinct scale’ sustainability strategies within the campus that are closely integrated with our design teams architectural and urban design strategies. We designed many of the student learning as ‘mixed mode’ to allow natural ventilation for the majority of the year through a network of openings to balconies and new laneways. The laneways themselves are all weather spaces, while fully naturally ventilated, lending the project circulation spaces a distinctive internal/external character. Using minimal interventions into the existing building’s structural fabric, we developed the interiors with sustainable materials throughout, including all joinery. 

These strategies supported the project achieving a 5 star Green Star Interior Design rating using the new Pilot Interiors tool. The project was undertaken in parallel with the University’s Sustainable Urban Precinct Project (SUPP) which reconfigured all of the campus’ central energy systems.

“We [achieved] the idea of RMIT being totally integrated to Melbourne through laneways, streets, entrances and balconies. We transformed NAS into a completely urban-based campus.” Carey Lyon

Designing a microcosm of Melbourne CBD

Taking the student experience as a starting point, our designs acknowledge that big picture campus environments are as influential on the student experience as small-scale learning and academic spaces. Working with the existing buildings constructed in the 1960s and 70s, our designs had to account for a rapidly ageing campus. With student’s needs continuing to evolve, our design puts an emphasis on the intersection of technology and student behaviour. 

What underpinned the project was an approach to embrace the city, enrich each student’s personal journey and how they live with a vivid urban experience. The campus is an integral part of Melbourne CBD and visa versa — for students city campus life is Melbourne city life.

To encourage students to spend more time on campus we considered NAS a microcosm of the city. We designed the infrastructure to encourage social interaction while laneways and retail outlets seamlessly blend into city life. By opening spaces for extended hours, international students living in compact apartment buildings near RMIT can use the campus as an extension of their living space. A casual kitchen on campus, located at the most prominent corner of the site allows students to prepare meals, and, more importantly, encourages informal socialising and sharing the tastes of home with new friends. 

At the heart of a functional academic design are the spaces that support learning. Our approach was to steer away from templated designs and provide multiple spaces to give students options. From informal and formal settings for autonomous study to collaborative group work, students can choose the spaces that are conducive to their learning.

Key Contacts

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