Exploring the ‘Post COVID Campus’ in the Master of Urban Design

With the pandemic profoundly impacting peoples’ lives and the day to day functioning of cities across the globe, Studio Leaders Tahj Rosmarin, Toby Woolley and Elliet Spring used their Master of Urban Design Studio, 'Post COVID Campus', to explore how designers could develop interventions within the built environment which could positively impact on individuals’ and cities’ ability to cope with living in a post-covid world.

Tahj Rosmarin, Studio Leader

Can you tell us a little about the ‘Post COVID Campus’ Master of Urban Design Studio?
TR: The studio recognises the urban uncertainty that many cities around the world are experiencing as they transition beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We have asked students to think about the University Campus as a microcosm of the City: using the University of Melbourne Parkville Campus as a testing ground for exploring what our urban environments might look like beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have explored a range of topics, ranging from improved student accommodation models, the future Campus library, and methods of creating more interactive Campus interfaces.

How important is it that students tackle real world problems in their design studios?
TR: The studio’s explorations are purposefully part of a much broader dialogue currently being had across the world, regarding the future of cities beyond COVID-19: a theme that is becoming more relevant to design professionals every day. The studio has introduced students to many unanswered questions that built environment professionals are currently trying to solve and will be tackling for years to come.

What role do built environment professionals have to play in ensuring our cities can cope with pandemics like Covid-19?
TR: As professionals who engage directly with the design of cities, we believe that urban designers, architects and planners have a real opportunity to emerge as clear advocates and leaders in this space. Built environment professionals will not only be able to offer tangible design solutions to the pandemic, but will be critical in developing strategies which respond to issues such as density, public transport and public space.

What type of outcomes have you seen so far in the student projects produced in the studio?
TR: Students have tackled a range of issues that have been highlighted by the pandemic and are visible on the Campus. Some students have looked at ways of improving physical and mental health on Campus, through exploring the future role of the gymnasium as a centre for health and well-being. Other architecture students have explored the future of other anchoring building typologies such as college accommodation, the library and the Student Union. A few urban design students have looked at expanding the role of the Campus as a ‘public space’ for the city: seeing how the broader public might be able to better engage and collaborate with the edges of the Campus.

Jazelyn Tan, Master of Architecture student

What made you decide to undertake the ‘Post COVID Campus’ Master of Urban Design studio?
Being a student, experiencing first-hand the transition to learning remotely, what is lost is the collaborative opportunities in class and the social life we have out on the lawn. In the post-covid era, what is the role of the university as digital learning grows in popularity? How can social distancing regulations and safety measures be implemented architecturally to bring life back to the university? I see this design studio as an exciting opportunity to rethink what built forms can do to improve our everyday reality in relation to the tremendous impact the pandemic has had.
Jazelyn Draft render 1
Images: Draft render  (above); Elevation East-side (below).

What type of concepts did you explore in your project in relation to tackling Covid-19 from a built environment perspective?
JT: The imperative to study from home remotely has amplified peoples’ sense of loneliness and loss of routine. In the post-covid era, outdoor green social spaces and a comfortable study environment will gain more importance in our homes, as they encourage motivation, spark chance encounters, and prevent loneliness, particularly for students living in isolation, often in tiny, narrow rooms in student accommodation.

Jazelyn ElevationMy proposal seeks to intensify the student life experience at the scale of vertical student housing by implementing street experience vertically into the building and reflecting on the impact of Covid-19 on the current student housing typology in Melbourne. To facilitate a sense of belonging and community between students, I investigate the concept of intertwining nature and outdoor social functions along with the exploration of 3 threshold spaces in student housings: public, semi-public and private, acting as an ‘in-between mediator’ for the solidarity and solitude.

What has been a stand-out learning you have taken away from this studio?
JT: The key takeout from the studio is how pandemics force us to evolve, grow and embrace changes particularly in relation to design opportunities. Researching and discussing Covid-19 with my tutors, peers and guest lecturers offered a series of varying perspectives on the outbreak and made me realize how our design thinking can help implement spatial flexibilities and improve urban planning to enable our cities to be stronger in preparation for the next pandemic. Our well-being and chances of social encounters should also be prioritized in the design process as Covid-19 has caused extreme stress and anxiety to individuals in lockdown isolation.

Yvonne Yang, Master of Urban Design student

What made you decide to undertake this urban design studio?
I chose to take the Post COVID Campus studio because I believe that it has a direct impact to the current situations that society is facing. As we are in the midst of a pandemic, a post pandemic life is a new area that hasn’t been tackled before. Thus, I hope that the studio can act as a catalyst for future conversations about how our urban environments could evolve in times of crisis and show that well designed spaces can bring people closer together while they’re physically separated.

Can you tell me a little about your project in relation to tackling Covid-19 from a built environment perspective?
My thesis project ‘Retrofitting the Campus’ is a direct critique of the current interfaces of Melbourne University and the abutting Melbourne Connect site that’s currently under construction. The thesis argues that Melbourne University’s poor edge conditions of limited access, walled boundaries and blank walls to the surrounding city limits opportunity for movement and collaboration. Furthermore, the new Carlton Connect with its program of innovation and entrepreneurship does not assist in resolving the poor campus edge as it just functions as another ‘boxed’ development on a corner site.Yvonne Melb Uni interface

The university’s edge between campus and city should be porous. The edge should invite industries and the broader community into the academy through contemporary campus design. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed this collaboration process, as people are reluctant to come together due to fear of outbreaks and social distancing. Therefore, the main ideas which I address are to explore opportunities around the edge of the campus, to create spaces which encourage collaboration and resolve inactive edge conditions to improve campus-city relationships.

The catalyst site of Grattan Street between Swanston & Elizabeth Street was chosen for its poor streetscape, interface and connectivity between campus and city. Through a series of interventions focused on themes of health & wellbeing, co-working, access & movement and creative outlets, the design outcome aims to develop a network of spaces which benefits both academy and city. In tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, the urban design role is to design comfortable and diverse spaces both indoor and outdoor that will further focus on addressing health in design without compromising access and function.Yvonne MasterplanImage: Concept Master Plan

The main resolution for COVID-19 is sanitation and social distancing. Additionally, the project does not only address health and social issues surrounding the pandemic but also the university as a campus. Activating the edges of the campus will not only provide better porosity into the university but will also encourage people to linger at the edge of the built form or on the street where interaction occurs the most.

What has been a stand-out learning you have taken away from this studio?
Many of my previous studios have been academic based, meaning that they were taught by the university teaching staff. This studio is taught by industry staff which has been really eye-opening in understanding the industry and the process of realistic projects from proposals to project management, design development and design outcome. I think that it is extremely important to have the opportunity to gain the perspective and feedback from industry staff as they bring a wealth of experience and knowledge that pure research would not be able to achieve.

Furthermore, I also really appreciate the opportunity to be able to study alongside architecture students as it has also helped me broaden my knowledge in technical skills as a designer. Taking an interdisciplinary studio has not only helped me understand my design from different areas of expertise but I’ve also learnt to analyse and critique my work effectively and efficiently which I hope would positively assist my design outcome.
Yvonne Sections
Image: Proposed section cut through Engineering building

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