RMIT Swanston Academic Building

RMIT Swanston Academic Building

“We worked hard to create the idea of a whole campus experience in a single building. Something with the same intensity, the critical mass, the industry of students and staff, the sense of discovery and sociability, and with all of these connected to the engine of the city of which RMIT is so much a part – and we think we got pretty close.’”

Carey Lyon, Director of Lyons

The RMIT Swanston Academic Building (SAB) is a campus that is not only deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, but born from it. Taking design inspiration both conceptually and literally from its surrounding urban environment, the SAB is a microcosm of the city. The unique vertical campus mimics the diversity of Melbourne’s CBD – it is vibrant and engaging with an abundance of flexible spaces for students to explore. The building places students at the centre of its design and has become an international benchmark for research into new learning spaces. Shared learning spaces are informed by new models of learning and designed to encourage collaboration and cross pollination of ideas. Completed in 2012, the building’s design is progressive, built to meet the needs of students today and well into the future.

  • Sector

    Education & Learning

  • Key Lyons contacts

    Carey Lyon

  • Client

    RMIT University

  • Location

    Building 80, 445 Swanston St, Melbourne

  • Traditional land

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

  • Size

    35,000 square metres

  • Sustainability

    5 star Green Star (Design) rating using the Education Tool Version 1

  • Project status

    Complete, 2012


2014 Awards - National
    • 2014 Property Council of Australia, National Public Building Award, Swanston Academic Building, RMIT University
2013 Awards - International
    • 2013 World Architecture Festival (High Commendation), Swanston Academic Building, RMIT University
2013 Awards - National
    • Australian Institute of Architects, National Design Award (Public Architecture New), Swanston Academic Building, RMIT University
    • Australian Construction Achievement Award
    • Property Council of Australia’s Innovation and Excellence Awards – John Holland Award for Best Public Building
2013 Awards - Victoria
    • Victorian Public Architecture Award
    • Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award – Infrastructure and Buildings
    • Property Council of Australia’s Innovation and Excellence Awards – Victorian Development of the Year

the city


the Campus

A benchmark for teaching and learning spaces

On completion, the Swanston Academic Building (SAB) set a benchmark for the design of learning and teaching spaces. A variety of different formal learning spaces are provided at each level of the building. Varying in student capacity, all spaces are designed to be centered around the student, promoting interconnection and collaborative work. With students at the forefront of the design, teaching and learning spaces encourage staff to adopt a mentor role. Ranging from 360 seat theatres to conversational student spaces, the teaching and learning spaces reflect the diversity of the city to meet the long-term needs of the University. Teaching and learning spaces extend throughout the eleven levels of the building, with these accessed via three different circulation systems – lifts, escalators and multiple open stairs that encourage student use as their primary means of vertical circulation.

A student-focused microcosm of the city

The Swanston Academic Building (SAB) puts students at the centre of its design. Our design brings the diversity of the city deeply into its conception to create a microcosm of the city for students to engage with. Flexible and diverse spaces are prioritised to make the SAB an attractive place for students to spend their time. An ecosystem of vertical student spaces provides opportunities for informal learning and social activities. Spaces located at each level of the building known as ‘portals’ provide the reprieve and flexibility that open, green spaces would have in a typical university campus. Externally, the design is characterized by faceted geometry resembling scales, with colours derived from the mapping of the surrounding cityscape. The design extends the building’s relationship with the city, creating an object that is at once operating as an autonomous campus building and embedded in the city’s grid. The building is designed to be highly porous and open to contribute to the inner city typology that characterizes Melbourne. The street level acts as a series of arcades or laneways, allowing students to walk through the building, or access cafes and learning spaces.

Building character in a vertical campus

Conveying the personality of the university, providing views to outside and offering a range of flexible spaces for learning and socialising are key aspects to the campus experience. These factors are achieved through a vertical stacking of informal, open student spaces, each connected to a central circulation system of escalators and stairs. A gradient of different learning spaces on each level of the building reflect the diversity of education and are designed to meet the long-term needs of the university. Distinctive triangular windows shape the interior experience by providing curated views down to the streets, up to the sky and straight out to neighbouring buildings. This window arrangement also optimizes the environmental performance of the façade system. The design of SAB’s city campus came with a unique set of opportunities for sustainability strategies. Strategies range from the campus scale, through to building elements, down to individual student spaces, resulting in a 5 star Greenstar (Design) rating.

“The building is like a magnet for students, who seek out and use the many informal spaces that the architects have designed for them, and my own Business staff feel like the building creates a true ‘academic community’.”

Prof Ian Palmer, Pro Vice-Chancellor Business & Vice-President, RMIT University

Key Contacts

Related content