The Women's College, within The University of Sydney
The Sibyl Centre synthesises the historical, geometrical, intellectual and social pursuits of The Women’s College into an architectural language. The forms and spaces are part of the ongoing evolution of the College, a series of public rooms and external expressions that embody and contemporise its important history and particular culture.
The design resolved a great mystery surrounding pre-existing site geometries – a series of observations in relation to geometric coincidences so strong, that it seems that what was designed may have always been intended. The result is a garden wall, that encircles the 1960’s triple wing Langley Building forming a tangent to the foundation building. It recognises Langley’s geometric response to both its northern neighbour (Wesley College) and the gentle turn in the road that establishes a new pattern in the university grid. The Master Plan created an understanding as to how to build in this location, hitherto thought untenable.
Langley Building was always an alien in an unfortified landscape - a short-cut for the general public - and this home to 150 young women was in lock-down. The building had been ear-marked for demolition, failing to address cost, waste, the loss of 150 rooms, and the virtue of Langley’s geometry. So, we saw our work not as ‘new’, but as ‘completing’ the good work of the original architects – Langley became redefined as a circular whole, with three private triangular courtyard gardens. The project delivered not only the new building, but a complete re-calibration of people’s perception of Langley.
The project enabled the ongoing utilisation of Langley, responsible for 50% of College income. It has created new-found appeal for prospective residents, and its multi-functionality has resulted in significant income generation from external bookings.
Prior to Sibyl, College functions were held in aged facilities at the rear. Now, the new building serves as a second front entrance and the venue for a range of occasions, for the first time bringing life to the street.
Within USYD the project has had enormous architectural impact, seen as an exemplar in culturally responsive architecture in a setting of critical importance.
Most Colleges have gravitas, set back from the street in immaculate gardens, designed to be revered. Women’s is no different – yet it has always proudly broken with tradition.
In response, the new work follows the orthodoxy of brickwork, but then, the great encircling wall is broken through to liberate an open, transparent, light filled space, literally and metaphorically taking the College’s intellectual agenda ‘to the street’.
For the 21st birthday of the College (1913) a play entitled A Mask was written and performed on the front lawns. The protagonist was Sibyl – an oracle who called forth great women from history, who told their stories, so that that something might be foretold of the future of women. A sepia photograph of the occasion hangs in Main corridor, the inspiration for the perforated copper screen. The backdrop to the screen is green – a continuation of the green mass of landscape. The ghosts of the women float, frieze-like by day and hologram-like by night, performing in the garden in perpetuity.
The Sibyl Centre is an architectural oracle - casting back then forwards, projecting new and exciting opportunities for the College into the future, and representing the College motto – ‘together’.