The Monash Forum Landscape is situated in the heart of the Monash University’s Clayton Campus. Designed as part of the original Clayton Campus Masterplan in 1960s, the Forum was established as a formal landscape framed by key University buildings including the Chancellery, the Matheson Library, the Menzies Building, the Robert Blackwood Hall and the Campus Centre. The Forum was a place of celebration and ceremony, reverence of education and learning, a place for student engagement, socialisation, and a place of protest.
Over time, and subject to the inner machinations of University politics, student usage and grounds management, the formal qualities of the Forum were diluted and eventually lost entirely. As a result of a rise in protests and mass student demonstrations in 1960s and 1970s, the University altered the Forum Landscape and introduced substantial mounding throughout the lawn, additional trees, and a central Gordon Ford Water Feature to discourage students gathering in the Forum landscape.
The Water Feature began to sink, students cut across the lawn in diagonal paths and the University responded by putting in an array of paths, steps and ramps to accommodate.
The design of the Forum reasserts the formal qualities of the Landscape whilst responding to the contemporary relationships of students on campus. The design principles are based around three key moves: editing out compromised elements; re-establishing the fundamental structures of the space; and then inserting new elements. The design reconciles the modernist campus plan with contemporary university culture and sociability.
The challenges of the previous decades that had resulted in the piecemeal approach to the Forum needed to be dealt with robustly and openly. Responding to the current diversity of activation on Campus, the Forum needed to be many things – a formal, ceremonial space as well as a place to host events including Graduation, Orientation Days, Open Days and Student Activities.
The editing process boldly saw the removal of selected and end-of-life trees, and the ‘de-cluttering’ of the space. Built form intrusions, particularly steps and ramps, extraneous pathways and obstructions were removed to provide a new, seamless and accessible integration between the building entries and the adjacent open space. The Gordon Ford Water Feature was removed, to enable the restoration of the space to reveal its true nature and purpose.
The Forum has been established as a single plane, the space has clarity and is reinforced in its ‘civic-ness’. The grand new sunken lawn is the centrepiece of the Forum, bordered by strong axial pathways that connect to the broader Monash Masterplan creating a legible and direct connection with the surrounding Campus.
The Forum is accessible. Pathways have gentle and consistent gradients, and the sunken lawn has cleverly integrated step ramps to allow full access to all areas. A sequence of bridges connect the axial paths across the lawn, referencing Sir John Monash’s contribution to bridge engineering.
The original pond has been reimagined as a formal, naturally-filtered water feature. Designed to be both decorative and functional, it provides a critical role within the broader University’s Campus-wide water reuse and treatment strategy. Formally arranged beds of reeds naturally filter the water, before it is recirculated, requiring no additional chemical filtration to maintain the water feature as a showpiece.
The north of the Forum landscape includes the revitalised curtilage to the Religious Centre, and provides a worthy plaza to the Centre. The plaza importantly enables the multicultural facility to spill out into the Plaza, allows vehicle access for funerals and wedding cars, and host associated activities. The plaza is separated from the Forum by a Reflection garden, that enhances the existing statuesque Eucalyptus trees. The native garden includes a weaving path, and small water feature and seating to allow a place of respite.
To the south of the Forum, the water feature frames a deck, a combination of fixed and generously wide seating with loose tables and chairs, allows students to spill out of the library for study, relaxation and socialisation.
The plant species selection embodies the Campus notion of an ‘Australian parkland environment’ and utilises native species for both feature trees, shrubs and ground covers. It quietly celebrates sustainability by hosting a water feature as a natural, yet formal and iconic statement in the centre of the Forum landscape, and providing drought resistant and visually arresting species.
The Forum is a versatile space, elegant and understated in simplicity of form, and yet grand in ceremony and celebration. It is the ultimate forecourt to each of the prominent buildings that it serves. The new Forum provides a memorable backdrop for graduation, events, and daily university life and reinstates the importance of this space as the landscape to celebrate Monash’s past, present and future.
Other designers involved in the design of landscape:
Paul Thompson (Plant Design), Meinhardt Group (Structural & Civil Engineering), WSP (Services Engineering), Glenn Waters (Arboriculture), Peter May (Soil Consultant), DesignFlow (WSUD), Bruce Cartwright (Irrigation), John Patrick Landscape (Heritage
Project location: Wellington Road, Clayton, Melbourne, Australia
Design year: 2014
Year Built: 2018