Westmead Education and Conference Centre multilevel interior

A Space Reimagined: New Westmead Education and Conference Centre (Level 1) a source of inspiration for its users

The Westmead Education and Conference Centre level 1 recently opened the doors to its new education, training and research spaces, located in Westmead Hospital, inside Western Sydney’s rapidly transforming Westmead precinct. The precinct has already cemented its reputation as a leading medical, clinical and research hub, as well as one of the fastest growing employment centres in the state of New South Wales.

The University of Sydney — having partnered with Westmead Hospital in clinical care, education and research since the hospital’s establishment in 1978 — continues to play a major role in shaping the Westmead precinct’s future. The new Westmead Education and Conference Center came primarily in response to the university’s plans to increase the number of students currently attending the precinct.

Kate O’Sullivan, chief operating officer of the University of Sydney at Westmead said, “The University of Sydney’s investment in Westmead will see the number of students at the campus quadruple to more than 6,000 and enhance the already active interdisciplinary collaborations between healthcare, research and education at Westmead.”

The University of Sydney engaged HDR to develop a series of new campus spaces within the hospital, including the Westmead Education and Conference Center’s concept design, design development and oversight for its delivery phase. While the second level of the Westmead Education and Conference Center building consists of an education and training facility, the first level previously housed a cafeteria. Western Sydney Local Health District’s Research and Education Network, the University of Sydney and HDR took on the task of reimagining the space to accommodate the anticipated growth in student numbers and Westmead Hospital staff and provide them with quality facilities.

Almost two years in the making, the project drew on a wealth of global experiences and benefitted from extensive consultation with user groups including staff, teachers and students. Design collaboration with academics and researchers informed the development of a suite of cutting-edge learning spaces that support dialogue at multiple scales. The ensuing design offers increased flexibility to support active learning in spaces that rely on dialogue as a driving force.

The full redesign focused on creating an engaging environment, with spaces for teaching, learning, socialising and relaxing that are both efficient and attractive. The main aim of the design was to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between students, researchers, clinicians and other precinct staff to enable exchange of knowledge and ideas.

This reimagination process translated into a 72-seat cabaret-style theatre, a 32-seat case study theatre and a 72-seat flat-floor seminar room. These three main spaces have a range of informal learning and study spaces, loosely linked to enable group project work and collaboration to continue seamlessly around set lecture times. Informal lecture spaces, interactive screen technology, and writable surfaces encourage externalisation of thinking, which is at the heart of successful group-dialogue-based learning. The versatile facilities are equipped with computers and are also ready for ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) use. HDR’s design further incorporates technological elements that enable certain rooms to be virtually combined with other similar rooms to create a distributed classroom model where staff or students at other campuses or hospitals may participate without necessarily being physically present.

As a prototype of this pioneering design approach and as a successful demonstration of establishing innovative learning spaces within the constraints of existing buildings, the University of Sydney is conducting an on-going study of the refurbished Westmead Education and Conference Center to inform future designs as it looks towards increasing project-based learning across all of its programs.

The Westmead Education and Conference Centre, as well as the rapidly transforming precinct at large, are helping create a culture of innovation and serving as a source of inspiration for its users. “The transformation of education, training and research at Westmead responds to our growing multidisciplinary environment, and aligns with the Westmead precinct’s vision of being a global innovation district,” said director of operations for Western Sydney Local Health District Research and Education Network Helene Abouyanni.