The Melbourne School of Design – a catalyst of inspiration with an inventive structural fabric by Nadaaa and John Wardle Architects



Project credits:
Project name: The Melbourne School of Design
Location : Melbourne, VIC, Australia
Year Completed : 2014  
Client : University of Melbourne
Design Firm: John Wardle Architects and NADAAA in Collaboration:
 Collaborating Architect:  NADAAA Inc.
Principal in Charge: Nader Tehrani
Project Manager : John Chow
Design Coordinator : Arthur Chang
Project Team: Katie Faulkner, AIA; Daniel Gallagher, AIA; James Juricevich, Parke MacDowell, Marta Guerra Pastrián, Tim Wong, Ryan Murphy, Rich Lee, Kevin Lee, Ellee Lee, Amin Tadj.
 Collaborating Architect:  John Wardle Architects
Principals in Charge : John Wardle and Stefan Mee
Design Coordinator :  Stefan Mee
Senior Associate: : Meaghan Dwyer
Project Manager: Stephen Georgalas
Project Team : Bill Krotiris, Andy Wong, Jasmin Williamson, Adam Kolsrud, Alex Peck, Barry Hayes, Jeff Arnold, Amanda Moore, James Loder, Sharon Crabb, Yohan Abhayaratne, Rebecca Wilkie, Ben Sheridan, Giorgio Marfella, Kirrilly Wilson, Elisabetta Zanella, Adrian Bonaventura, Genevieve Griffiths, Michael Barraclough, Matthew Browne, Maria Bauer, Anja Grant.
Photography credits: John Horner


“Growing up in all parts of the world: South Africa, Pakistan, Italy, England, Iran, the United States, among other places –all offered a different lens on to the environments that architecture can produce.”Nader Tehrani

After having garnered a blended experience from RISD, to the AA and then to the Harvard GSD, Mr. Nader Tehrani was gifted with a wide lens of intellectual vantage points from design to history and theory and from architecture to urbanism.

With an ever growing focus on craft, construction and digital fabrication, NADAAA’s projects range across furniture, architecture and urban design.


The Melbourne School of Design is the collaborative outcome of two design focused firms: John Wardle Architects and American Nader Tehrani, director of Boston based architectural firm NADAAA. The unusual creative relationship between these two design practices resulted into a building that has become an impressive masterpiece for one of Australia’s most respected universities and buzzing creative hub for the future’s brightest design stars. This incredibly inspiring building took over a total of 5 years to be completed and has garnered significant attention ever since then.

Standing alongside this brand new architectural masterpiece, is the relocated stone Bank of New South Wales façade that was rebuilt in the University grounds in the 1930’s.


The rear elevation of this fine old stone edifice hosts a beautiful composition of sculptured deep white windows. 


The new building for the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning responds to the urban design values reflected in the Campus Master Plan and enhances the existing open spaces within the historic core of the Centre Precinct of the Parkville Campus.  In this manner the project integrates the requirements of both the University’s property and the Campus Services and the Faculty. It engages with the existing landscape elements. 


The sequence of outdoor rooms arrayed across the campus continues and is strongly linked to the intricate network of circulation routes that surrounds the site. The new building compliments the sense of place that the Eastern Precinct of the Parkville already commands.


The building façade contributes immensely towards making the structure climatically responsive. It acts like a weatherproof envelope that provides thermal insulation while the varying sized perforations in steel and plywood serve best for unobstructed vision and ventilation.

The building is wrapped in overlapping perforated zinc panels that protect the sun exposed sides from harsh light, blurring the solid lines that define the edge of the building.


The second part is a screen that controls solar access. The structural envelope being a didactic demonstration of the mediation of solar and climatic conditions, the east, west and north facades stay most affected by these mediations of solar conditions. The screen is held off the weatherproof façade by means of a steel armature that also supports a catwalk for maintenance access. In order to eliminate vertical reinforcing, each screen panel is supported by three horizontal points. The weather proof envelope is quite prominently revealed to the south. Constructed of precast concrete panels the surface is patterned with a corrugated texture. At the corner junctions where the façade turns towards the east and west, the corrugated metal panels peel off from the precast concrete area.



The focus of the design was to rethink the architectural education by giving priority to the four themes: the academic environment, the suspended studio, the living building and built pedagogy. These themes most importantly cover the certain urgencies of this time while projecting forward various ambitions for the future.   


“In offering these four themes, the design foresaw some critical changes in architectural education that are the result of inter-disciplinary work, and how spaces of pedagogy can react to and accommodate a platform for various fields to come together and form something larger than the sum of their parts.”- NADAAA  


With the rising trend of new technologies and online education, the spatial needs have to be redefined so as to optimize personal spaces, but also collective spaces of interaction, share media and interactive technologies. In a time that is evolving regardless of both economic crisis and ecological vulnerability, the building ought to address the use of resources, challenging conventional means and methods of project delivery, while simultaneously adapting with the life cycle implications of such a venture. Apart from all these basic essentials, the project stands as a built artifact that serves as a pedagogical instrument – to teach by example and radicalize the media with which it is working.  


The building is a medium through which problems of pedagogy come on parallel terms with the physical environment that is inhabited and tested daily by an audience of experts, critics, teachers, practitioners and students, the very protagonists of the medium. The audience is given an opportunity to engage with the building and its authors at a higher level making it an added challenge and responsibility to acknowledge architectural questions with a greater degree of nuance.



Architecture schools have seen some significant changes over time along with a good deal of typological and spatial variety, making them an open and rich terrain of speculation and research. Recent technological advancements have altered certain fundamental, organizational and functional demands. The traditional drafting methodology has been ruled out on account of the ‘computer station’. FAB-labs, 3D printers, plotters, laser cutters and a host of other digital paraphernalia are an absolute necessity in today’s intellectual environment. Provisions had to be made keeping in mind these preferences with respect to the future architectural growth.

The structure in itself would be a Built Pedagogy, active in educating its occupants and visitors through its clarity of materials, tectonics and organization. It expresses the complexities of contradicting pressures.





The Studio encourages a way of learning that prefer the acts of doing, making and problem solving in an environment of critical, supportive and partnering peers. By this definition, the entire building has been designed to reflect a ‘Studio’ concept. The Academic Environment with its rigorous day lighting and natural ventilation requirements became a primary form driver.

The layout of the building is quite simple and composed around an atrium.


The complexities of its geometry lie in the suspended studio gaining its structure from the roof and the Joseph Reed façade lounge that cantilevers from its façade as a lateral brace. The suspended studio gives an orderly overview of a compressive set of members above, to a set of thin veneers in the suspension below. In return a geometric perspective is developed from the arches of the façade back to a single point of convergence.  






The challenge was to incorporate the voices of the many user groups into the design of the building while maintaining a cohesive and unified project. Innumerable mock-ups were carried out to ensure the flexibility with respect to the structure’s overall fabrication.  


Having nailed down all aspects of innovation and technology, The Melbourne School of Design helps all users relate to the structure’s spatial and structural planning.    


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001Nader Tehrani


– Rhea Fernandes ,Volume Zero.
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