Robb College (Under consideration) | NSW Environment & Heritage

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Heritage

Robb College (Under consideration)

Item details

Name of item: Robb College (Under consideration)
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Education
Category: Tertiary College
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
PART LOT1 DP1142199

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
University of New EnglandUniversity 

Statement of significance:

Robb College, at the University of New England, is of state heritage significance as one of the first colleges associated with the Modern Movement designed and built for a regional educational campus outside of Sydney. Designed by recent graduates at the NSW Government Architects Office under the leadership of the Government Architect of the period, Edward (Ted) Farmer (1958-73), the college design responds to its regional setting while observing the wider post-war economic issues that shaped construction in NSW following World War II.

Sited with regard to the Oxbridge model, Robb College is a complex of four buildings (three residential and one dining hall/common room building) arranged in a pinwheel formation around a central, communal park-like quadrangle. Using locally-derived resources as well as mass-produced and standardised materials, architect Michael Dysart achieved a considered design of individualised buildings, each with their own particular treatment, landscaping and character that together form a physically and spatially connected residential complex. Perhaps a catalyst for his career, Robb College uses landscaped courtyards and repetitive geometric shapes that became design features and philosophies that reoccurred throughout Michael Dysart's career.

As part of a regional university campus with a high number of students who reside on-campus, Robb College also has a particular social significance for the past students and fellows who have been part of the social, cultural and academic life of Robb College.

NOTE: In November 2015 the Heritage Council outlined that it thought that the physical fabric of the three residential buildings may not be of heritage significance and it was more likely that these buildings contributed to Robb College’s significance as part of the spatial relationship between the complex of the buildings. They requested that the CMP currently being prepared assess this issue.
Date significance updated: 20 Jun 17
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Michael Dysart (design architect), Peter Webber, Edward (Ted) Farmer (Government architect)
Construction years: 1958-1964
Physical description: Part of the University of New England campus, Robb College consists of four buildings (three residential blocks and one Dining Hall/Common Room building) arranged in a pinwheel formation around a central quadrangle. In keeping with the Oxbridge courtyard planning style, this arrangement allows the buildings to be physically and spatially connected while eliminating issues of privacy from neighbouring buildings outside the complex.

Built during a period of austerity, Robb College was constructed in a simple plan with repetitive use of expressed materials and shapes. With a focus on an economically effective complex, the Government Architects Office aimed to produce a design that was both timeless and independent of the external pressures of fashion and excess.

Planned to accommodate 200 students in total, each of the three two-storey residential buildings were designed with double loaded corridors that provided single room accommodation (with built-in furniture) and shared bathrooms. Each corner room was devoted for use as student common rooms or as self-contained flats for fellows. Although the three residential buildings, each with an individual courtyard, are designed on the same footprint, all three buildings have been fashioned differently with external treatments and landscaping.

Completed last and finally closing the square complex of Robb College, the Dining Hall/Common Room building is a more elaborate design that provided an opportunity for a more dynamic and expressive built form to be complemented by architecturally designed and built-in furniture. Constructed of basalt (found on-site) with double-height concrete vaulted ceilings, this building now provides the necessary communal spaces for collegiate activities and student interaction (including formal dining hall, kitchens and senior and junior common rooms).

The final design of Robb College was in keeping with the greater master plan for the university complex - being the creation of a relaxed rural environment of open, spaced and low-scale domestic architecture that respected the existing character of the natural, cultural and academic environment of Armidale.

NOTE: In November 2015 the Heritage Council outlined that it thought that the physical fabric of the three residential buildings may not be of heritage significance and it was more likely that these buildings contributed to Robb College's significance as part of the spatial relationship between the complex of the buildings. They requested that the CMP currently being prepared assess this issue.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Only minor upgrades and maintenance has been carried out to Robb College since its construction.

NOTE: In November 2015 the Heritage Council outlined that it thought that the physical fabric of the three residential buildings may not be of heritage significance and it was more likely that these buildings contributed to Robb College's significance as part of the spatial relationship between the complex of the buildings. They requested that the CMP currently being prepared assess this issue.
Modifications and dates: West Court undercroft has been enclosed to create the Irvine Centre

Within the Dining Hall/Common Room building, the first floor arcade linking the Senior and Junior Common Rooms has been enclosed and, more recently, has been converted into two small rooms.

Upgrade of hot water systems, electrical cabling, lighting and repainting.
Current use: Tertiary accommodation college
Former use: Tertiary accommodation college

History

Historical notes: Although the New England University College was established during the 1930s (then a college of the University of Sydney), it was not until the 1960s that residential college buildings were being developed for student accommodation.

Known originally as the 'Third College' on campus, Robb College was designed by new graduates at the NSW Government Architects Office under the leadership of the Government Architect of the period, Edward (Ted) Farmer (1958-73). The principal architectural design was the work of the 24-year old Michael Dysart who, with input from fellow graduate Peter Webber as Senior Architect, was responsible for designing a men's college to accommodate 206 students and 7 fellows. The college was also to have communal spaces to service the collegiate needs and those of the residents.

As a young architect, the design that Dysart was to achieve for Robb College embodied the principles that were to repeat throughout his professional career. The use of geometric shapes and communal garden courtyards are strongly used in the design and layout of Robb College and this early design was perhaps the catalyst for the direction Dysart's career was to take.

Robb College was built during a period of post-war austerity for NSW when the state government was pursuing a philosophy of good design that was both timeless and independent of the external pressures of fashion and excess.

The final design of Robb College also reflected the greater master plan for the University of New England site that the Government Architect Farmer played a significant role in developing. The objective was to create a campus of spaced, low-scale buildings that respected the existing environment and merged into the open and rural nature of the Armidale location.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Tertiary education-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. College-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Educating people in suburban locations-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Designed as the 'Third College' for the University of New England, Robb College is of state heritage significance as one of the first modernist college complexes designed for a regional campus outside of Sydney. The use of the quadrangle form showed a renewed interest in the Oxbridge model of college design and set the residential buildings within a park-like environment. This contributed to the sense of unity and connection between the buildings (and its residents).

The first professional project by Michael Dysart, then a graduate at the NSW Government Architects Office and under the leadership of the Government Architect of the period, Edward (Ted) Farmer (1958-73), the design of Robb College is a unique achievement that reflects the architecture of the modernist period, its regional setting as well as the wider issues facing design in NSW during a period of post-war austerity.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Robb College is of state heritage significance for its association with architect Michael Dysart and the NSW Government Architect of the period, Edward (Ted) Farmer (1958-73).

As a 24-year-old graduate at the NSW Government Architects Office, Robb College was Dysart's first professional design and incorporated the architectural elements that were to reoccur throughout his career. Geometric forms, courtyards and the Golden Mean were philosophies that Dysart used in the design of Robb College and this college complex can be regarded as perhaps the catalyst for Dysart's career.

Designed under his leadership as the NSW Government Architect, Ted Farmer had a particular interest in the early design of the University of New England and had been involved in a project management committee since the establishment of the university in the 1950s.

Farmer, and the committee, had a vision that the architecture of the campus should reflect the rural character of Armidale and integrate into the landscape through well designed, spaced and low-scale buildings within the existing open environment. Although the committee's master plan for the site was not ultimately achieved, much of Farmer's intentions were fulfilled by the design of Robb College.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Robb College is of state heritage significance for its particular aesthetic values as a college complex associated with the Modern Movement.

As one of the first college complexes associated with the Modern Movement to be built on a regional university campus outside of Sydney, Robb College was an important design that responded to its rural setting while observing the wider economic issues that shaped construction in NSW following the Second World War.

Built during a period of austerity, the design of Robb College made use of locally derived resources, as well as standardised and mass-produced materials, to create a considered complex of individualised buildings, each with their own particular treatment, landscaping and character.

The creative design of Robb College and the interplay of practical and aesthetic considerations have produced a complex of a superior quality and design that has been long admired by architects and heritage professional alike.

NOTE:In November 2015 the Heritage Council outlined that it thought that the physical fabric of the three residential buildings may not be of heritage significance and it was more likely that these buildings contributed to Robb College’s significance as part of the spatial relationship between the complex of the buildings. They requested that the CMP currently being prepared assess this issue.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Robb College is of state heritage significance because of its wide social significance amongst the former students, fellows and staff who have resided at the college since the 1960s and who would continue to have a close association and connection with the site.

The college residential system was developed to ensure that the college played an important social, cultural and academic role in the life of the students. Today, the University of New England prides itself on instilling a strong community spirit amongst the students that reside on campus in each college.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Robb College was built in 1958-64 on a vacant site. There would be some potential to undertake archaeological investigation of the area to identify previous uses or occupation of the land.

Further investigation of the buildings may reveal information regarding the material selection and construction methods used during a period of post-war austerity in NSW, including the high quality stonework and off-form concrete.

Analysis of the design may also reveal information about the career of the architect, Michael Dysart.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Robb College is rare in that it is one of the first college complexes associated with the Modern Movement to be built in regional NSW and outside of Sydney.

Robb College is also unique in that its design reflects the architecture of the modernist period, its regional setting as well as the wider issues facing design in NSW during a period of post-war austerity.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
As a campus in regional NSW, the University of New England has a long-standing history of the majority of its students living on campus in residential colleges.

Today, UNE has eight colleges for student accommodation and Robb College is representative of the student lifestyle that incorporates residential living with academic pursuit, communal gathering spaces and both personal and academic support.
Integrity/Intactness: Only minor upgrades and maintenance has been carried out to Robb College since its construction. This has left much of the buildings and furniture in-situ which contributes to the integrity of the site.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
21(1)(b)Conservation Plan submitted for endorsementConservation Management Plan Robb College November 2015 prepared by EJE Heritage  

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - Under consideration for SHR/IHO listingGraham Wilson 26 Apr 12   
National Trust of Australia register   25 Jul 12   
Royal Australian Institute of Architects register  01 Feb 12   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAustralian Institute of Architects2012Register of Significant Architecture: Robb College
WrittenGraham Wilson2012State Heritage Register Nomination Form: Robb College
WrittenMichael Dysart2010Robb College: Mid-century modernism on campus
WrittenNational Trust of Australia (NSW)2012National Trust Register Listing Report: Robb College, University of New England
WrittenTodd, Stephen2017'Mid-Century Memories'

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061683
File number: 12/11360, EF14/21774


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