For all the challenges of any architectural project, lecture theatre design comes with some of the most stringent restrictions. Architects are essentially given a box, and a set of requirements to fill it with. These requirements are usually unimaginative to boot: tiered seating, giant screens, robust technology, with only narrow gaps left to fill with creative licence.
Yet, with the new lecture theatre at Deakin University’ Waurn Ponds campus, k20 Architecture managed less a sprinkling of innovation, more of an infusion. The idea of ‘connection’ was at the centre of the brief; an idea that k20 Architecture has explored both conceptually and tangibly.
In a 21st-century tertiary environment, technology is the obvious place to start the connection conception. Taking the original, 1970s-built lecture theatre, k20 Architecture completely re-fitted it with technology that was not only to the benefit of the lecturer and their on-screen presentations, but also enhanced student-centric adaptability and connectivity. An LED “line” of lighting that runs the length of the theatre’s walls embodies this connection between teacher and student. This specialised piece of technology allows the lecturer to create “moods” within the theatre more broadly, as well as to make targeted alterations to students’ individual screens.
Connection is also expressed through the acoustic performance of the lecture theatre. Advanced acoustic panels along the walls and ceiling both absorb and reflect sound, making it possible for lecturers to lecture without the use of mics. This creates what the architect refers to as an “intimate experience” – something not typically synonymous with large theatre design.
From the architect:
Completed in 2017, the refurbishment of Deakin University Lecture Theatre provides an interactive and technologically advanced lecture theatre for Deakin University. k20 Architecture’s Director Anthony Uahwatanasakul in collaboration with Deakin University felt the idea of ‘connection’ would support the development of the design.
The original lecture theatre, with a capacity for 100 plus students, was built in the 1970s and was the last theatre to be modernised. The university required a high standard of fit out commanding that the theatre be not only modernised but one that would allow its lecturers and teaching program to connect beyond the theatre room.
Architecture connects people and the notion adopted by this project was to create a theatre that enhances the learning and teaching experience. There is a line that exists between the edge of teaching and that of learning and this becomes even more apparent with online teaching programs. It is [the edge of this] line that most interested k20 Architecture in this project and has been adopted as the mechanism to connect. k20 Architecture’s aim was to connect and engage teaching and learning and this is expressed via a series of 'lines' that run from the front through to the back of the theatre. These series of lines define the edges of the theatre; edges of its walls, floor and ceiling.
For example, the line of connection in the wall surface is identified as an LED light strip, which is embedded in the edges of the theatre’s walls. It is a specialised piece of technology [that allows] lecturers to create enhanced interior 'moods' that are both visible from within the theatre and on screens across laptops and handheld devices used by students as part of the university's online program. This is further extended as it is used graphically to represent the university's connection with the edge of tomorrow.
The acoustic performance of the theatre is [just] as important [as lighting] and k20 Architecture further applied the idea of 'connection' to the theatre’s wall and ceiling surface treatments. The walls and ceilings feature acoustic panels whose edges are defined by the lines that run through the theatre. These lines create edges defining panels in both ceiling and wall surfaces that absorb or reflect sound. Anthony explains that the "aim was to create a most natural and intimate experience enabling one to one connection between teacher and student. This is a large theatre and we sought to create a unique teaching environment where lecturers can teach without the aid of mics and 'be up close' acoustically with their students enabling this intimate experience and connection.”
The theatre has also been equipped with highly sophisticated state-of-the-art audio-visual technology, enabling the university to record and post on-line and in real time its teaching programs in support of the University’s Open Learning framework. This allows its students to connect with the university no matter where they are from around the globe. The precise audio-visual projectors were considered as well as colour selection, colour [reflection] and shadowing so that there would be no interference on the screen visuals. A new glass white board was installed and replaced the old chalk board so that lecturers would be able to write up salient points but also provide the performance of a traditional lecture theatre.
k20 Architecture was aligned with the policies of Deakin University, which placed a strong emphasis on ensuring an environmentally sustainable outcome for the project balanced with durability and fit for purpose. k20 Architecture retained as much of the existing building structure as possible to minimise the amount of demolition landfill and the removal and replacement of material. A review of existing services was conducted that included mechanical and electrical circuitry and these were refurbished and improved to create a more efficient mechanical system for conditioning the lecture theatre space.
Each material incorporated within the project is either Green Tag-certified or selected for its sustainable benefits to the project. Materials have been selected for durability, recycled content, end-of-life recyclability, low toxicity, and suitability to the design intent. k20 Architecture sourced products from local manufacturers within the local area and, in the case of the plywood [as an example], the product was immediately available and easily installed. It was important that all products be readily available as the project was constructed over the Christmas period when the university was closed. Timing was an imperative as the lecture theatre is usually fully-booked and in constant use as one of the main lecture theatres on the Deakin Waurn Ponds campus. All lighting is LED and low-energy rated. k20 Architecture was also mindful to use Enviro2 low-VOC paint within the lecture theatre. All insulation selected by k20 Architecture included recycled content, end-of-life recyclability and high durability that would reduce ongoing maintenance, and in particular, cleaning required for the type of university lecture theatre operation.
Flexibility of the space is paramount. In planning the design, k20 Architecture allowed for the services to be concealed behind removable wall panels to allow for potential inclusion of new wiring that may be required to adapt, change and interchange aging technology without the need to interfere with the internal skin of the building. Through forward thinking, the k20 Architecture design incorporates complete access to service areas to provide flexibility for change/upgrade thus creating a well-considered, sustainable, social and economic outcome.