Innovative use of a sloping site provides new facilities for two university faculties

A sculptural new cornerstone building is only part of the University of Waikato's Law and Management Building the rest of the architecture heads underground

Looking east from the University of Waikatos new chair, couch, floor, flooring, furniture, house, interior design, living room, table, window, black, gray
Looking east from the University of Waikatos new grass-roofed podium Law and Management podium.

A flurry of prefabs or other conformist buildings set in a group or dotted in a row these were typical old-school solutions to evolving educational needs. Now, enter new-school. Today, education-related architecture works to do everything from facilitate the learning experience and reconcile wider campus design to providing signature landmark buildings.

The award-winning new Law and Management Building designed by Opus Architecture for the University of Waikato achieves all these things in grand style.

The university asked Opus with Hendrik Vermeulen and Eqo Leung respectively as project and lead design architects to design a new building for the Law Faculty and to link this with the existing Management Faculty complex. The existing management building was in need of additional teaching and admin spaces and the Law Faculty required offices as well as teaching spaces.

"Our solution was to provide a new facility for Law that is directly linked to the Management Faculty on two levels so that the facilities can be shared between the two faculties," says Vermeulen.

An important factor in this project was the site itself which prior to this development had sloped away to the east corner of the campus.

The broad strokes of the project involved designing a new four-level Law block with podium on the corner site, acting as a wayfinder for the campus. Extending out from this building, two-lower levels of lecture spaces were built on the adjacent sloping campus land and then covered with a flat grass roof. These underground facilities are also accessed from the other direction via the existing Management Faculty.

And to complete the programme, the latter also now has a fresh, above-ground presence with the introduction of a prominent glass entry building on the north side of the now-built-up and flat grass common space.

Upscale the entry to the concrete and glass architecture, building, corporate headquarters, facade, house, property, real estate, gray
Upscale the entry to the concrete and glass University of Waikato Law building, designed by Opus Architecture, has a voluminous structure like an enormous cave.

The high-profile Law Faculty building provides a dramatic gateway into the campus. The building has a strong, simple form recognising law as a cornerstone of society and rises four levels high above the glass two-level podium on the corner of the site.

The other end of the podium is underground as it effectively digs into the rising ground behind. And the massive sculptural void above ground at this far end of the building is angled in towards the campus and creates the formal entrance.

The podium extends out under the grass roof to house the lecture spaces shared by the Law Faculty from one side and the existing Management Faculty from the other.

The materiality of the law building contributes to its dramatic presence concrete for strength and glass for a sense of transparency.

On the street/south side of the building, the facade is predominantly patterned concrete with slender fixed aluminium louvres merging visually with the concrete's striations. These long vertical fins provide solar control over the interiors.

One unusual feature of the building is a double skin corridor that runs around the perimeter, with an 80cm gap for circulation and maintenance.

"Another interesting aspect of the Law building's interior is the ceremonial staircase. This represents a student's odyssey from the start of their university experience to receiving their qualification," says Eqo Leung. "This staircase is located in the tower building linking the main entrance to the courtyard."

The University of Waikatos new concrete and glass architecture, building, corporate headquarters, facade, grass, headquarters, real estate, sky, brown, white
The University of Waikatos new concrete and glass Law Faculty admin and office building looks across the courtyard of the central underground podium structure.

"Podium level 1 is located 4m underground and a central concrete courtyard was introduced to give users of the lower levels a connection with the external world. The feel for students and staff is that they're not underground. This is achieved by strategic design, including having natural light stream through gaps in the courtyard walls."

While the Law building is mainly administration, two lecture spaces and a moot court are in the central, shared under-grass part of the podium.

"The Moot Court is a fully functional courtroom, with demountable fittings, enabling the majority of space to be used for other purposes when not set up as a courtroom," says Vermeulen. "This is set further into the recesses of the underground podium where natural light was not required. And for a complete air of realism, the moot court features benches, seating and even a defender's box recycled from the Manukau District Court."

While the podium presents as a glass box supporting the Law building and then heads underground to accommodate the lecture rooms, moot court, courtyard and breakout spaces, it also has a glass facade facing to the east where ground and campus drop away. This is another way to bring in natural light and to capture distant mountain views.

Facing the Law building across the flat grassed area is the other component of the project. The Management Faculty that connects to the lecture rooms underground has been given a new glass entry building above ground. This provides the faculty with a fresh presence and is ideal for holding functions that can spill out onto the lawned area.

Credit list

University of Waikato Law Faculty, Hamilton
Hendrik Vermeulen, Eqo Leung, Opus Architecture
Civil engineer, earthworks, landscaping
Fire consultants
Dimond Styleline, concrete, TPO membrane, glass
Concrete, Gib and paint
Ceiling panels
Gib, fibre cement, Aqualine, Decortech plywood
Heating/air conditioning
Airpro, Mitsubishi Electric
The University of Waikato
Construction company
Fletcher Construction
Quantity surveyor
Litecrete patterned precast panels by Wilco Precast, glass, aluminium fins
Public area flooring
Concrete, Interface carpet tile
NZIA 2017 Waikato/Bay of Plenty Award (Education)

Story by: Charles Moxham

Photography by: Stephen Baker

28 Sep, 2017

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