INFRASTRUCTURE

University of Notre Dame breathes new life into former warehouse

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University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle campus is housed in old warehouses and commercial buildings in the city.

Every building has a story to tell. As standing reminders of the past, they are a reflection of our history, of different eras, habits and traditions.

These are the very reasons why historians and culture seekers fight to save old buildings.

Adaptive reuse, the process of retrofitting old buildings for new uses, is what helps keep these stories alive, even if the original purpose of the spaces change.

That is how the story unfolds for University of Notre Dame Australia’s Fremantle campus, housed in old warehouses and commercial buildings in the city.

When commercial activities in West Australia moved from the port city of Fremantle to its capital Perth in the 1950s and 1960s, Fremantle’s real estate market dipped. To save the city from total dereliction, Notre Dame acquired and repurposed the estates for university activities instead.

But as the institution’s real estate investment appetite grew, concern spread among local businesses and communities who began to worry about the loss of public access to some of these historical structures.

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The school’s newly-opened Student Hub was designed with these concerns in mind.

The masterminds behind it at Cox Architecture turned a former rope-making warehouse opposite the campus library into a space that proudly celebrates the building’s past while at the same time offering students and members of the public a place to gather, relax and exchange ideas.

“There were two main aims with this project: to provide an attractive and useable space where students could remain on campus between or after classes, and to provide a sense of porosity between the campus and the city, to improve accessibility between the two,” Cox Architecture Director Emma Williamson said in ArchitectureAu.

To achieve this, architects created an outdoor terrace with plenty of seating along the side entry on Croke Street, with sliding windows that open to the interior.

The previously partitioned office area facing Mouat Street, meanwhile, has been opened up into a quiet lounge for students, complete with the necessary amenities that enable them to work anywhere and at any time.

The new main entry is a large glazed ‘garage door’ that provides a space large enough for food trucks to pass through when fully raised. The various internal zones of the hub can be easily rearranged to accommodate events, exhibitions, and large-scale gatherings, allowing the space to be shared with members of the public.

And paying homage to the warehouse’s past life, the new design also includes a large sculptural rope installation on its ground floor.

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The concept of restoring old buildings is not one that is new. But more than preserving culture and heritage, giving life to old buildings is also economical and better for the environment, requiring fewer materials and less energy than constructing a brand new structure.

According to ArchitectureAU, the University of Notre Dame runs free public tours every Friday for those interested to see more of its campus.