20 April 2023

UC student's design chosen for refurbishment of main campus hub

| Travis Radford
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Hugh Swann and Julian Raxworthy stand in front of the refurbished UC Hub.

Hugh Swann (left) was helped by associate professor Julian Raxworthy (right) to bring his designs to life. Picture: Tyler Cherry.

When second-year University of Canberra (UC) student Hugh Swann pressed submit on his landscape architecture assignment in 2022, he had no clue his design would become a reality.

Hugh was one of about 10 landscape architecture students challenged to redesign the campus’ main outdoor space, the UC Hub, as part of a coursework project.

“I really didn’t expect much. To be honest, for me, it was just an assignment,” said Hugh, who aspires to design public spaces once he completes his degree in late 2024.

“There were talks of [the winning design] being developed at the start, but I didn’t really think about that too much. It was pretty shocking towards the end.”

The multi-month design and construction process to remake the UC Hub in Hugh’s vision began in late 2022 and was unveiled in February 2023.

Hugh said he wanted to bring colour and life back into what was initially a “flat and uninspiring space”.

“I wanted to integrate as much vegetation into the space as possible and also cater to the various needs of students,” he said.

“[There are] places for studying, chatting, there’s a cafe in the courtyard so … spaces for people to gather around and have their lunch.”

Some of the other features include curved benches, wheelchair-accessible tables and the sustainable relaying of the original paving in a basket-weave pattern.

Hugh’s landscape architecture professor Julian Raxworthy said one of the stand-out aspects of his design was the use of elevated planters to add extra height to the trees.

“The use of [native] plants and materials, in terms of the planters and what they did for space, were really some of the most interesting things about it,” he said.

“It had a level of maturity to it, in terms of being able to imagine it getting to completion, that maybe some of the others didn’t have.”

As a mature-aged student, Hugh had previously worked in landscape construction, but this was the first time one of his designs had been selected for development.

“It was pretty incredible working with Julian and the rest of campus estate, and it was really great to [learn from their] knowledge and experience,” he said.

“They were all very supportive and patient with me … and I’m really privileged to have worked with all of them and got that experience as a student.”

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The student design competition was the brainchild of associate professor Raxworthy, who was equally surprised the project actually went ahead.

“Another academic said to me many years ago, ‘Julian, these student projects, they sound good, but they never actually come to anything,'” he said.

“He said that to me in the 90s, and it’s fair to say this is the first time since the 90s that I’ve managed to actually get this to happen.

“So I was surprised because it is a bit unprecedented in the industry to have a piece of actual work of this scale undertaken.”

But associate professor Raxworthy and campus estate management saw Hugh’s design had real merit and sought to bring it to fruition.

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Hugh was hired by associate professor Raxworthy’s private architecture firm and the largest ever sum of money for a student project was set aside by the university.

“That’s a sign of confidence from the university to say, ‘We’ll back our students and our staff to produce something,'” he said.

“Because a lot of times, these student projects can be very small budget. Any budget is fantastic but budget equals confidence.

“And for us … we’re getting a visibility on campus, and we’re really hoping that these kinds of initiatives attract students.”

Associate professor Raxworthy said he was confident student-driven projects would continue into the future, with a few others already in the works.

The refurbished UC Hub area, located below the Concourse level between Building 1 and Building 8, can be visited by anyone, including non-staff and students.

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