Lecture theatres are central to the learning process at universities, but many remain as they were built, often lacking in the services and features current teaching pedagogies demand.

The University of Macquarie, however, recognised that its 1970’s lecture theatre needed to be updated to a modern, technologically-rich learning environment that is flexible enough to adapt to different teaching and learning modes. 

Designed by Lahznimmo Architects and Wilson Architects in association, the 500 seat W5B Lecture Theatre has been rejuvenated in a range of ways – from the installation of new seating, lighting, and audio-visual technologies, to the introduction of new acoustic treatment, a new wall and floor finishes.

“One of the major challenges of the refurbishment was to make the Theatre operate in a number of different teaching and performance modes,” the architects note.

“This was achieved by installing a large internal acoustically treated ‘ring’ within the space. This device reduced the perceived width and depth of the space, creating a much more intimate moment.”

Drop down screens at the stage end of the ring also allow the space to be used for performances, or for lectures to be conducted on a much smaller stage area, bringing the lecturer in closer contact with the students. Acoustical modelling was carried out on this spatial arrangement.

The brief also called for the inclusion of a technology-enabled collaborative and discursive area that can fit up to 60 students. This space was created on the mezzanine level, and features ten tables that are connected to tethered laptops and individual large format screens, each linked by a continuous ribbon of white boards.  

The lecturer is able to switch between each mode of learning from his or her lectern, and control what is being displayed on each of the screens and laptops. These initiatives not only allow lecturers to connect directly with students, eliminating the problem of some not being able to see the screens, but also encourage students to participate and intermingle with each other.

Generous foyer spaces abutting the lecture theatre were transformed into learning lounges to suit active and reflective learning modalities. Here, a combination of loose and fixed furniture again cements the idea of flexibility, allowing the space to be used for larger events.

In addition to these works, existing services, access and building code compliance issues were also upgraded, while ageing and inefficient mechanical and electrical services were replaced. A new lift was furthermore installed for the first time to provide equitable access to all parts of the building.

Sustainability was an integrated part of the works, and centre on the new building services, which were incorporated to conform to best practices. For instance, the air conditioning system has an economy cycle that allows for 100 per cent of external air when conditions are favourable, while the foyer and breakout spaces are naturally ventilated.

Lighting and power initiatives involved the reduction of existing lighting power density, sub metering, occupancy and zoning switching, and high frequency ballasts. Double plumbing was also installed to allow for future campus-wide use of recycled water.

Photography by Brett Boardman

According to the architects, deciding to refurbish rather than demolish and rebuild the existing theatre, despite the amount of works done, had the most environmental impact.

“Although this decision had some inherent constraints, it allowed the team to make use of the existing sound building fabric. This was not only a sustainable decision; it also suited the tight program and budget.”

Photography by Anthony Fretwell