The University of Sydney Business School, formerly dispersed across nine buildings and lacking a distinct character, has been integrated into a single structure designed by Woods Bagot, a firm specializing in educational architecture. Since its inception, Woods Bagot has embraced a wide range of architectural styles. Some recent designs have focused on philosophical as well as environmental, geological themes. 

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Façade of the University _©Trevor Mein

One of the Business School’s primary goals was to restructure the traditional higher education triptych of teaching, learning, and research. The rebuilt centre for the University of Sydney’s Business School, with a focus on the natural environment and sustainability, provides a space for innovation, learning, and socialising for both students and the local business community. The project features three 550 seat lecture theatres, eight 100 seat study rooms, 40 seminar rooms, a learning hub, and 15,000 sqm of informal learning space for nearly 6,000 students.

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Arial view of the University _©Ethan Rohloff Photography

For a long time, the University traded off its traditional sandstone look; now, it transforms its architecture and urban landscape and brings together the University’s curriculum to thoroughly re-design its teaching/learning amenities with a physical environment that replicates the type of workplace wherein Business School graduates find themselves working. The floor plates provide a variety of learning spaces centered on a connective core, stimulating engagement and visual accessibility via exposed staircases that connect the various floors, offering transparency and dynamism from the street to informal learning places.

The design kept native trees and a setback of 11m from the property line, providing a sense of ‘buildings in the park.’ The landscape design’s spatial and material resolution maximizes accessibility and ease of mobility while favorably contributing to the public realm. Landscape design comprising of ecologically friendly and water-conscious landscaping developed to connect learning with social areas.

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Between the spaces _©Trevor Mein

The Interiors

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Conversations with the Outside _©Trevor Mein

The principal objective was to reconfigure the center and establish a collaborative and interactive environment. With atriums and canopies, the goal was to integrate the various facilities under one institute. The structure has a layered façade with a second layer on the inside that provides shade and thermal massing. The 375,000 square foot interior, completed with the CARR Design Group, centres on an atrium with a spiral staircase veneered in eucalyptus meant to resemble a single, monumental curled wood shaving. Perimeter classrooms are complemented by sticky spaces, as described by Woods Bagot director Georgia Singleton, to entice students to stay after lectures.

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Cascading Spiral Staircase _©Trevor Mein
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Cascading Spiral Staircase _©Trevor Mein

The CARR Design Group and Woods Bagot have developed a dynamic spread building with a dramatic interior set up by an appealing spiral staircase on the same axis as a spectacular established gum tree outside the entry with its mix of curvilinear and orthogonal. Stair links contribute to enhance the building by encouraging pedestrian mobility between floors. Beyond the staircase, there are serene stretches of open-plan student learning environments with a choice of individual and collaborative study alternatives. The structure honours the existence of the existing Sydney Blue Gum on the site by incorporating the hardwood tree as a primary component around which the structure wraps. This bold entry statement also serves as a strong visual and physical link between the community and the main campus. Secondary entrances give access to the campus and services throughout the site.

About the Abercrombie Business School’s Facade:

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Terracotta Cladding _©Trevor Mein

The building’s architectural vernacular and fine grain are inspired by the historic and textural nature of the adjacent terraces and the university quadrangle. The exterior skin is influenced by the historic and textural nature of the neighbouring Darlington terraces. The building envelope comprises of three parts: an all-glass undulating base level, a window wall enclosing classrooms and offices, and an exterior screen assembly composed of terra-cotta baguettes. 

The massing fits with the neighbourhood, thanks to a terra-cotta cladding system that functions as a sun-shading mechanism and gives a unique feature to the structure. The double-skin façade system is intelligently constructed to respond to both interior and outside building adjacencies, with blade density and rotation adapting to desired vantage points, privacy concerns, and daylight penetration to study areas.

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Building Envelope _©Trevor Mein
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Building Envelope _©Trevor Mein

The primary focus was developing a contextually sensitive project by blending the “background” hue of the insulated metal panels on the building exterior with the “foreground” coloration of the terra cotta screen. The colour scheme of unglazed and white glazed terra cotta was selected to allow the two facade layers to visibly mix, by creating a texture inspired by local sandstone.

The terra-cotta screen consists of repeating baguettes that are dynamically assembled based on the program and sun orientation. The superimposed solar analysis and programmatic analysis of the building skin distinguish room type and activity level. This elevation zoning assisted in determining where baguettes to eliminate within each facade. To enable light and air into the active program spaces, the architects removed almost 35% of the baguettes. Baguettes were rotated on elevations that received the most intense sunlight, to maximize their potential to act as a parasol while maintaining aesthetic porosity.

  1. University Of Sydney Business School by Woods Bagot - Sheet10
    Campus space _©Trevor Mein

    Location: H70, Abercrombie St & Codrington St, Darlington NSW 2006, Australia

  2. Architect: Woods Bagot
  3. Interiors: KANNFINCH/ CARR
  4. Client: The University of Sydney
  5. Area: 35,000sqm
  6. Completion Date: February 2016



  1. John Stoughton [Online] Terra-cotta sun shading offers transparency and dynamism for Australian business school

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  1. Knitting Bee [Online] University of Sydney Business School by Woods Bagot and Carr Design Group

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  1. aasarchitecture [Online] The University of Sydney Business School by Woods Bagot

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  1. PAUL MCGILLICK [Online] Can the Agile Model Benefit the Future of Education?

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#WoodsBagot #educationalarchitecture #terracotta


A recent architecture grad student who believes design and research play a creative role in shaping society while providing advanced solutions. Her curiosity has drawn her passion into understanding the psychology of architecture with human behaviour and art. She relishes reading, discovering, and craves to learn more each day.