Adaptive Reuse: Campus Perth

“The ability to evolve from the typical is a hallmark of adaptive reuse.”

Campus Perth delivers on the dream of the hyper-local, multi-faceted student experience. Completed in 12 months, a 1970s commercial building was transformed into a 726-bed student accommodation that combines the best elements of inner-city living, co-studying, co-working, hospitality, and lifestyle.

Driven by a strong community approach, the project is the result of meticulous, out of the box programming opportunities. Constraints posed by the building’s deep floorplans were met with a hyper-detailed approach that prioritised the insertion of a ‘social heart’ – a move that made the constraints of a large floorplate an opportunity for connection.  



What was the approach?

The process began with the program. By mapping out students’ routines, the team defined clear goals for how the entire building would be used at different times.

Aware from the projects’ conception that the aim was to create a multi-dimensional precinct, the decision to map out the key experiences unlocked a spatial understanding that could be applied wholistically to prioritise the social benefits of student housing.

Mindful of the architectural challenges posed by the building’s deep floorplate, the project team coined an approach called ‘Deep Plan = Social Heart’. This touchstone considered the practical application of natural and artificial light through the lens of how the spaces were used. As a result, spaces requiring natural daylight are placed on the building’s perimeter while areas requiring more intimacy are located further in.

In order to successfully add within the tight 12-month turnaround, a modular approach was used.  Planned for from conception, the prefabricated casework is adaptable, multi-functional and yielded minimal material waste. Years later, the flexibility of these modules is still beneficial – allowing the team to adapt use and easily take cues from what’s been popular as the space has evolved.

“The process began with the program.”

Why was this approach better than defaulting to demolition?

To work with a development team and student housing operator to find opportunity for innovation where others have only been able to see cause for demolition is to work from a deeply creative space. In this state, designers can achieve things outside the normal and far beyond the expected. In the case of Campus Perth, we were able to explore and advance an often-too-standard typology to deliver a more human centric student co-living experience.

To adapt from the typical is a step forward for design and architecture at large, which is invaluable during a time that absolutely demands a new approach to designing our cites.

Existing building condition vs extra floors.

Lessons learnt/problems solved?

There were three main takeaways from the adaptive reuse of Campus Perth:

Dealing with deep floorplates requires user-centric programming.

The defining challenge of this project was the need to covert deep office floorplates into student homes. Often dismissed as being too dark or large to for successful conversion, deep floorplates require a program that considers the building’s multifaced uses.

In the case of Campus Perth, the team opted to place the spaces that needed natural light – like living rooms – towards the building’s perimeter and areas that could benefit from the designed-in ambience of internal views and artificial light – like gym and fitness studios, screening rooms, ensuites and communal laundries – further in. For example, natural light was amplified on the social floor light by cutting a large void to create a dramatic >300sqm double height space against the glazed facade. This human-centric approach created diversity of experiences that suited both user and floorplate.

A key benefit of adapting a commercial building was the extensive amount of glazed façade – a feature and cost that would certainly not stack up in the current market.

A building’s use is a chapter in its life, not the whole story.

As we move into an additional stage for Campus Perth in 2023, the futureproofing we did 5 years ago has been incredibility helpful. The benefits of flexibility without changing the main infrastructure are clear: the plumbing was already in place, the modular joinery in the rooms meant they could be easily updated, and the design turnaround time was quick.

Designing for maximum flexibility also left room for unexpected uses and benefits. For example, because the room modules were designed to be adapted to accommodate a range of room typologies, they were able to respond to market conditions as the demand for solo apartments was driven up during the pandemic – this saw many spaces easily evolve for safe practice and living in unprecedented times.

The ebb and flow of people through the amenity spaces over the day has informed the 2023 updates, which will yield an even more tailored program that builds on the success of the last.

Modular solutions make impact.

The tight 12-month construction period constrained by the beginning of the university semester was overcome by utilising modular construction methods and casework in various configurations to ensure each item was adaptable, performed multiple functions and had minimal material waste.

Success relied on overcoming the significant technical challenge of adding four new levels without expensive structural strengthening works, a potential to derail the project budget. Designers overcame the challenges of cutting large voids in an existing post tension concrete slab by using carbon fibre structural reinforcement – allowing ‘The Commons’ to have a generous, light filled double height space.

“The constraint is the opportunity.”

How the campus rooms and the social heart have been prioritised on the typical floorplate.

Section showing additional floors at Campus Perth.

What needs to change in your city for adaptive reuse to stay?

Change can’t come from just one source, but the government could make huge impact by providing incentives. The building stock in Perth is quite old, so the process of processes like electrification need policy that aligns with the key aims of adaptive reuse: sustainability, restoration and meeting the updated needs of communities.

As we come to understand that our cities have to make use of what they already have, a shift in mindset from all city-users will greatly benefit the direction our joint future takes. Now is a time to embrace innovation and rethink how we layer purpose, it’s time to rethink how we approach openings and age in our CBD and surrounds and consider how multi-modal, mixed-use designs might uplift and diversify where we live, work and play.