Article Feature image - Hames Sharley Architecture, Urban Design, Planning and Interior Design

The transformation of the Curtin University TL Robertson Library is now fully realised, marking a significant milestone for one of the leading university’s largest and most historic buildings.

Completed in June 2023, the $90M project was designed to create a social, people-centric heart for the campus, to elevate the student experience and offer something far more than a traditional library.

James Edwards, Hames Sharley Portfolio Leader for Education, Science & Research, said the recently completed works, designed in partnership between Hames Sharley and international firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen, included some exciting additions since the official unveiling in February this year.

“The final stage of work saw the completion of an expansive flexible learning and event space on the newly created Level 7. More than 2,200sqm of multi-functional space, with views across the campus to the city, has been created where mechanical plant was formerly located,” he said.

“A prominent feature, and a new landmark on the campus, is the dramatic ‘Lantern’ on top of the southern tower. With views south through the treetops, the Lantern space can accommodate a variety of functions of up to 200 people.

“The works also included the finishing touches to the building’s striking exterior. This includes the completion of the new, naturally weathered perforated steel facades, which protect the building’s new glazing, entry canopies and roof.

“Landscaping works were also completed, creating a new forecourt and external study spaces to the north, which further support the library’s focus on bringing people together. Modifications to Sir Charles Court Promenade and Henderson Court to the south have improved access to the library at all levels and addressed contemporary compliance requirements.

“The new outdoor terrace on Level 4 provides further study opportunities in a secure external environment, surrounded by nature.”

Mr Edwards said that, at its core, the overall project not only involved a rethink of the library, but also consideration of the modern campus, reimagining the library as a hub of knowledge exchange that encourages social connection and a sense of community.

“This is reflected in the project’s design elements – the innovative ‘click and collect’ compactus system is a defining feature, where the library’s 7km of books are now stored on electronically operated compactus shelving in an environmentally controlled space. Consolidating the printed collections in this way released a further 1,000sqm for flexible study use.

“As a result, most of the library is now dedicated to connection and collaboration, including flexible teaching spaces, individual and group study areas, a ‘Makerspace’ for creative activities and an AV-production room for content creators,” he said.

“This is a major shift from the original building. Constructed in 1972 in a brutalist style, its key function was to be a repository for books and physical collections. To protect its contents from sunlight, the building had low ceilings and few windows – ideal conditions for books, but not for people.

“Our design has taken the library’s floorspace to more than 21,000sqm, plus a 400sqm external study terrace. The amount of glazing has almost doubled, while internally, sections of the existing concrete skin have been peeled away to draw in natural light and offer views out. Ceilings have been removed to bring volume into spaces, while a palette of wood and glass adds to the sense of connection with nature and the surrounding environment,” he said.

Mr Edwards said that the design team conducted a detailed analysis of how the university used the library and broader campus, to ensure that the building would function within place and context now and into the future.

“At Hames Sharley, we seek to create transformational change by deeply understanding human behaviour associated with a particular place, and how it may evolve over time,” he said.

Tim Urquhart, Director of Properties, Facilities and Development at Curtin University, said the refurbishments were a collaborative effort that responded to the needs of the students, staff and the wider community.

“Given its prominence as the most visited place on campus, the scope of this project extended far beyond the replacement of end-of-life services, to a highly complex transformation to create spaces and facilities that respond to the needs of the broader Curtin community,” he said.

“We have been impressed with how all parties have worked together to achieve this outstanding re-creation of this 50-year-old building to deliver a place of innovation and social collaboration.”

One of the largest library buildings in Australia, the TL Robertson Library can now seat more than 3,000 people in a wide variety of study spaces.