Back to news

The infrastructure boom that’s been flying under the radar

It’s not obvious from the crane count used to track development activity in Australia’s major cities but building developments at universities are booming.

What’s apparent about these projects – and what a crude measure like the crane count fails to capture – is that rather than new builds on greenfield sites the tertiary sector redevelopment activity is thriving within existing buildings and involves revitalising and increasing the efficiency of existing spaces.

Developments on campus are not easy, taking place in live, operational sites with multiple stakeholders where large numbers of people work, learn and, increasingly, live, typically in high-density areas. Noise, disruption, access, safety and traffic are all factors that need to be managed and mitigated.

Layered on that, Root Partnerships Associate Director David Wiles describes the tertiary sector as “fascinatingly unique”. It’s a sector where practices that are steeped in tradition – something that comes with institutions that in some cases are over one hundred years old – compete with thinking that is increasingly ambitious and commercially aware when it comes to campus planning and project delivery.

It’s due to these complexities however that a company like Root Partnerships, which actively seeks out complex projects requiring high stakeholder engagement, is well placed to be an effective partner. As a result, it has had the opportunity to work across many of the major tertiary institutions over the past five years.

Driving the changes

There are a few key trends driving development activity in the tertiary sector, and Mr Wiles says adaptive reuse – or the reinvigoration of existing campus infrastructure – is one such trend. With limited room for new buildings, creativity is required to do more with existing spaces.

Root Partnerships Associate Director Tim Eerhard says a needs analysis typically unearths the functional requirements of any space, with consideration also given to flexibility. So rather than fixed components, think flexible fit outs that allow a space to morph from a seminar room geared to independent learning to a collaborative prac space as required.

But not all spaces can be versatile and creating specialist spaces is another trend in adaptive reuse. “In order to provide highly engaging and realistic learning spaces, universities are developing more specialist learning facilities like IT/AV labs, analytics labs, flight simulators, cold tech labs and design build studios,” Mr Eerhard says.

One such development that Root Partnerships recently project managed was the Health Faculty Consolidation project at Deakin University’s Geelong Waterfront Campus. The project created realistic and interactive learning facilities such as authentic clinical simulation spaces for Occupational Therapy and included the provision of a new Nursing Community Health and Midwifery simulation centre along with realistic hospital wards.

Image: Nursing Community Health and Midwifery Simulation Centre at Deakin University’s Geelong Waterfront Campus

The need to gain a competitive advantage in the competition for students, teachers, researchers and rankings is also driving some of the redevelopment with an emphasis on specialist facilities, and particularly research facilities.

“The rising opportunity for growth in universities remains in research, and this is where the more complex projects are happening,” Mr Wiles says, referencing the recent Electrical Engineering Building refurbishment at UNSW and the Incubator at Sydney’s Macquarie University, a temporary timber framed – and award-winning – facility developed to attract high-calibre researchers that Root Partnerships project managed.

Placemaking is also another key trend; with the rise of online qualifications there is a need to lure students back to study in physical spaces where they can collaborate and interact with both teachers and fellow students. Coupled with the rise in student accommodation, often onsite, university buildings are facing the added pressures of being open for longer hours, and the need to offer more and better facilities as they become town centres for their communities.

Into the future

Despite recent redevelopment projects and other planned expansion projects, Australia’s universities remain asset heavy, in some cases underutilised and needing to respond to rapidly changing pedagogies, so Mr Eerhard says there is work to be done. But while the industry continues to play catch up, the time between redevelopments is also expected to reduce as cutting-edge changes in technology and learning models speed up.

These forces mean the tertiary sector will be an interesting space to be involved with as Root Partnerships continues its focus in this sector to help shape these institutions into universities of – and for – the future.


See more about our projects in the tertiary education sector here.