University of Adelaide Barr Smith South redevelopment

Distinctive and extroverted interior design has transformed previously uninspiring spaces into magnetic ones where students intrinsically like to be.

This is the second completed chapter of our work in the Barr Smith South building.

Chapter 1 (Common Teaching Areas, 2018) involved transforming a dingy, claustrophobic basement corridor into an intriguing breakout zone.

Chapter 2 takes place on the floor above the basement. Emerging from the subterranean ruin, we find ourselves under a vaulted colonnade though, in reality, we’re still indoors.


In Chapter 1’s design story, we discovered a fantastical ruin buried below the building, fragmented and broken. We turned it into a vivid imaginary world with myriad historical and contemporary cultural references through rich combinations of furniture, wallpapers, lighting and colour. Our client nicknamed it ‘down the rabbit hole’.

We’ve imagined the space as a camera obscura: a chamber in which an image of the outside environment is refracted and projected on the inside.

In the vaulted-colonnade breakout zone, we have installed arches and columns and papered them with sketches by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and grisaille images of bookshelves referencing the adjoining library.

These visual elements draw from features around the campus.

Like in the subterranean ruin on the floor below, walls with stylised crumbly edges divide the breakout booths, which contain a variety of furniture for different activities and personal tastes.

Some people learn best in low-stimuli environments, others need dynamic settings for motivation and concentration.

Besides the breakout zone, we created learning spaces for 60 and 90 students over two levels.

The learning spaces are flexible, with pentagonal desks that can be grouped and configured for different pedagogical modes, and for teaching staff to rove around the class or to talk from different places around the room.

Technology is selected and positioned to encourage blended learning and interaction and participation from the students. There are charging points and screens around the walls so multiple groups can work concurrently.