RMIT Storey Hall and Green Brain

Our two green projects for RMIT distinguish the campus precinct from the rest of Melbourne’s CBD.

Storey Hall

The Hibernian Australian Catholic Benefit Society built Storey Hall in 1887 at a time when Protestants controlled all of Melbourne’s other meeting and speaking venues.

We developed it for RMIT’s contemporary educational, exhibition and conference purposes. The Green Brain is an extension of the facilities across the top of the neighbouring Building 22.

Our 1995 task at Storey Hall involved reworking its main 750-seat auditorium space and converting the building to accommodate a conference centre.

 

The entrance draws inspiration from an amethyst geode

Storey Hall, plus the annexe that we added, includes:

  • 230-seat lecture theatre
  • five seminar rooms
  • commercial catering facilities
  • exhibition space
  • RMIT Gallery
  • foyers
  • seminar rooms
  • student gallery
  • café
  • new adjoining annexe building, which includes foyers and circulation space, services, kitchen and conference rooms.

Architecture

The Storey Hall redevelopment was part of a masterplan, also developed by ARM. Its interior and façade incorporate Oxford mathematician and physicist Roger Penrose’s ‘fat and skinny tiles’, which explore the concept of tiling an infinite area without ever repeating the pattern exactly. Until the 1960s, mathematicians thought that you needed 20,426 different tiles to achieve this, but in the mid-1970s, Penrose did it with just two: a fat one and a skinny one with exactly the right proportions. The façade tiles are made from bronze.

The cave-like entrance references other arches along Swanston Street (Melbourne’s main civic axis) including under Princes Bridge and the front of the National Gallery of Victoria. There’s also a nod to the iconic Luna Park gateway through Mr Moon’s giant mouth.

The foundation stone, set by the lobby stair, is a small glass-fronted mirror pentagonal box set into a green concrete wall. It contains a solid resin cylinder about 250 mm long. In it, we have suspended two apples, one green one red, on either side of a floating key. There are several blood-red marbles in there too in a ÷ configuration.

The reworked auditorium openly combines the old and the new: old ceiling details alongside the Penrose tiles spreading all over the walls.

When we started work on Storey Hall, we discovered that it had an operable mansard roof for ventilation in a pre-aircon era. Unlike the roof of our Perth Arena, which opens in just seven minutes, Storey Hall’s was low tech. It was operated manually: it sat on a cradle with cogs and great wheels on a track and you pulled ropes to slide it away. Unfortunately, our development necessitated closing it permanently.

By the lobby staircase is a stainless steel mirror, part concave and part convex, like you’d find in a fun park hall of mirrors. It makes your reflection either fat or skinny, like the tiles.

Australia Post immortalised Storey Hall in 1995.

In the first-floor foyer, we pay tribute to Ron Robertson-Swann’s abstract sculpture Vault (1978). A significant work of Melbourne public art, Vault was commissioned for the then-new City Square but was considered overpriced and unpopular. It spent many years exiled to lesser locations but, several years after our Storey Hall development, was moved to the forecourt of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Vault is also known by its decidedly derogatory nickname, The Yellow Peril, a racist term for Asian immigration in decades past. Behind our Vault-like structure is a staircase rising from the ground to the first floor landing.

Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault in City Square

The Green Brain

The Green Brain got its nickname for obvious reasons. It integrates with Storey Hall to offer a more diverse range of conferences and other continuing professional education activities than Storey Hall could on its own. The building was originally owned by the Singer Corporation sewing machine company.

We adapted the building’s lower floors for administration. On Building 22’s ground floor, we converted the former RMIT University bookshop into Info Corner, an information centre for prospective students.

The bulbous façade forms are also derived from Penrose tiles, but in soft smoothed and rounded 3D.

Behind the distinctive Green Brain skin, the conference suite has floor-to-ceiling windows and spectacular city views. This flexible space seats 100 people in lecture mode and 50 in conference mode. An operable wall can divide it into two conference rooms for 20 people each.

Diagonally opposite is Melbourne Central Shopping Centre, also redeveloped by ARM.

Green

The green theme acknowledges the building’s Irish roots (the Hibernian society built it) and the green, white and purple flag of the Women’s Political Association, a radical feminist group who occupied the hall from 1916. There are also contemporary interpretations for green, from kryptonite to sustainability, from the Emerald City to leprechauns, the Hulk with his bulging green muscles, to the symbology of hope and prayer.