Could you please describe Academies Australasia Polytechnic?

This college is focused on higher education. We teach bachelor and master’s degrees, both as a partner provider and our own degrees. We are a quality education provider in the higher education sector and we have maintained this theme in the design of our new premises. We are located in the CBD and there is a corporate feel that we wanted to preserve as well. It was also useful to have a corporate space for whenever the Academies Group meets in Melbourne, especially with market analysts.

Academies Australasia worked with Intermain in Sydney 6 years ago and the Melbourne campus is the latest collaboration.

We chose Intermain because it was important that we work with an organisation that understood our business and the priorities that we had. For our Melbourne campus I did look at two other contractors who were based in Melbourne. Before contracting Intermain, I visited our Academies colleges in Sydney as a reference and to see how things looked there 6 years down the track. I also checked the Intermain website and saw a variety of clients and completed projects. I met the Managing Director, Andrew Johnson, who was open and prepared to dedicate one project manager to oversee our project. During the planning phase, the Intermain team came to visit us in Melbourne on a number of occasions and understood the requirements of the project long before we formally engaged them. Their commitment was an important consideration for me. Academies Australasia Polytechnic had no experience in the size and scope of a construction project and we were working to a very tight timeline so I was really counting on someone we knew.

What was your Melbourne brief to Intermain and how was the brief developed?

I was looking for a design approach that could maximise the space available and also give us some flexibility for future growth and change. I looked at some of the recent construction work at Federation University and Holmesglen TAFE, and what they were able to provide in terms of students facilities, as the student today is very much dependent upon technology services. We wanted to provide more space for student activities but couldn’t afford to dedicate specific areas for such purposes as we are in a very expensive part of town. So, multi-purpose use was the strategy. The building’s footprint lends itself easily to classroom construction and we have the benefit of an atrium in the middle of our tenancy. I wanted the library to be the hub of student activities, so the library was designed to surround the atrium on Level 7. Classrooms and key functional areas were allocated, each having nice big windows with lots of natural light.

Once the project commenced, how did your working relationship take shape?

The best part of the relationship was the responsiveness of the Intermain team. We had a very tight timeline to complete the construction but I knew what I wanted. The process was iterative and effective. When changes were made to the plans, they responded with design alternatives. They would ask me to sign off the changes to the plans, I would sign them off and we moved on. Yes, we worked fast and cohesively. I think that was the critical success factor. We had our conflicts and issues but the communication was good. We drew a fine line. I was responsible for the process flows and the Intermain team was responsible for the technical construction design and the aesthetics. So when we finished the whole project, the place worked.

What input did the student body have and are there any specific design features that you have developed that foster more immersive learning?

The student body was not involved in developing the brief for the new building but they were given the opportunity to provide feedback on what was important to them. They wanted more space to study, for group work, smaller places that they can go to study together, access to electronic/technology services, high speed Wi-Fi, space where they can lounge around. We had international students at our previous location and the classrooms were very tight and not comfortable for long sessions so the design of the new classrooms are much larger. To accommodate the electronic/technology services that students expect, I requested the design to include benches with power points, to allow the students to charge their phones or portable devices. Many students have their own electronic devices so charging points are where they mingle. Catering for a large number of power points did cause us problems as it overloaded the power board on level 7. Intermain took care of that. The technology really is the key to this project. There were so many technical issues, ranging from power, to fire, to plumbing, but when we had a problem there were always alternatives.

Were there any issues that you didn’t expect?

The fire requirements were huge. The compliance was really difficult. It became a showstopper in the end. If we didn’t get the approval of the fire consultant engaged by the landlord and the fire inspector, we wouldn’t have been able to get our occupancy certificate. There were so many layers of approvals and it came down to the wire. We only had one week left when the approvals came through. Intermain was very responsible and stuck to their guns, got the approvals, put in the things that we needed. They kept making changes and improving the situation and were quite determined to get that defining approval.

What are you most happy with about the project and what has been the students’ reaction to the new campus?

I’ll answer that from three perspectives. This project wouldn’t have been completed if it weren’t for the dedication of the Intermain team and their adherence to the timeline. They worked nights and weekends and flew in people from Sydney. We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off if it hadn’t been for the Intermain team. To be able to move into our new premises on time and on budget, I wouldn’t be able to quantify what that means to us.

The students are really happy with what they have been presented with. It is all about the details but the final product was not over the top. From the staff perspective, I think they understood that they couldn’t be involved in the day-to-day of the project because it was such a tight timeline but I tried to give everyone a small part to play.

The other main player who made the project successful was the removalist. We were moved in over one weekend and were ready to go on Monday. Looking at all the people we have worked with on the project, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew.

You have described how the relationship between client, designer and builder defines the outcomes of a project, is there any advice you would like to share?

The key to a successful project is the amount of planning. That is the most important thing. You need to have a vision of what the outcome is going to be. You might not know exactly what it is going to look like but you must have a vision. Then work back and check your design plans against all the processes in your business. At the end of the day, the business processes have to work and work more effectively than before. While it is still early days, it appears that we have got a few things right.

Esther Teo was interviewed by Heidi Dokulil. Further information and images on Academies Australasia Polytechnic can be found here. Thank you to Esther Teo for her time and collaboration.