University of Melbourne Arts West

Arts West is a University of Melbourne landmark. Its striking façade features images of objects from the University’s cultural collections.

The Faculty of Arts had not had a new building in 60 years and the existing teaching and learning spaces no longer suited the University’s contemporary methods. ARM, in partnership with Architectus, worked with the Faculty to design a new building that would reflect the latest pedagogical thinking as applied in their curricula.

It was featured on Australia by Design in 2018.

The contemporary-styled cloister and the naturally ventilated atrium (below) blur the distinction between inside and out.

The Faculty needed the new building to accommodate and represent the concept of object-based learning (OBL). Academic staff use pieces from the University’s 23 cultural collections in their teaching so the new building includes two OBL laboratories specifically tailored for exhibiting and studying collection pieces.

Arts West’s spaces are tailored to project-based collaborative, interactive, seminar, discursive and didactic modes of teaching and learning. They incorporate a range of interactive technologies. These include audio-visual, film projection and document cameras. There is a 150-seat lecture theatre and a range of specialist teaching spaces that can be formatted for 30 or 60 students.

Lecture theatre

Object-based learning lab

The façade

The striking façade features images of selected objects from the University’s 23 cultural collections. It also represents the concept of object-based learning.

Imagine you make a big building. You put a band of windows around each floor and cover it with metal fins that look like exterior venetian blinds, but deeper. Next, you browse a museum of interesting objects and get inspired to make a huge statue of some corroboree dancers. You press the statue into the venetians on your building. They give way as gently as dry foam so the dancers make a perfect imprint of themselves.

It looks right. So then you make a statue of the femme fatale Salome and you press her into the façade too. Then four figures in a pursuit-and-departure scene, then a man wearing an elaborate headdress. You press each one in on a different wall. Finally, you grab the building by one corner and twist the venetians into a swirl of waves. They look a bit like isobars in 3D.

In short, we used innovative virtual modelling, adapted from software usually used for gaming to do just that.


Arts West accommodates a variety of staff workspaces. There are open-plan spaces for research staff, students and part-time staff, single offices for senior academics, and multiple-person office space for funded research units. It also includes a research lounge—a common room for staff and students to meet that incorporates a book collection, kitchen and presentation facilities. There is also a flexible exhibition space where staff and students from multiple Faculty of Arts schools can curate exhibitions.


Research lounge

Staff meeting nook

The salon and the warehouse

The Faculty of Arts specifically didn’t want standard-looking classrooms. Our salon-and-warehouse theme pushes the boundaries between interior architecture and pure decoration. Each space has a story to tell that has inspired its design.


Vivienne Westwood wallpaper and carpet

Inspiring breakout spaces facilitate informal learning and encourage students to study on campus.