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Engineering buildings

Vice-chancellor's house
Vice-Chancellor's house

Once the location of the Monash University site had been decided and the Talbot Colony site purchased, the physical layout and building of the campus became the priority for the Interim Council. The Council stood firm on its decision not to construct temporary buildings on site. In practice this meant that while permanent buildings were being designed and built, much of the planning and early administration of Monash was conducted from the Vice-Chancellor’s residence, one of the few buildings already existing on the Talbot Colony site. Not only was the house home to the Vice-Chancellor and his family, but it also became the makeshift administrative centre of the new University with several rooms being transformed into makeshift offices.

The Interim Council formed a subcommittee to manage the design, planning and ultimately the construction of the Monash University campus. While plans for all buildings ultimately had to be approved by the Australian Universities Commission (the governing body for all universities in Australia at the time), the early campus took shape under the auspices of this subcommittee, which sought expert advice and liaised directly with architects and designers.

Given the University’s expected emphasis on science and technology it is hardly surprising that when the staged construction plan for the campus was developed, the first two clusters of buildings on the schedule were Science and Engineering. The plan was that a Science building would be built first and all staff and students would be housed there come March 1961. As additional buildings were completed, students and staff would be shuffled and relocated accordingly. In Vice-Chancellor Matheson’s own words:

‘then began a series of leap-frogging operations which continued until each department was maneuvered into its proper place. … The continual moving and improvising became increasingly irksome, although it did not last very long, and by the beginning of 1964 there were enough buildings for the University to function in the intended manner.

The plans

Master Plan Stage 1

As the Engineering Buildings were the second cluster of buildings to be constructed, meetings to determine their design and layout were well underway by mid-1959. In early October the architects Bates, Smart and McCutcheon had prepared a collection of diagrammatic layouts and sketches for what was then referred to as the Engineering School. The sketches were the result of a series of interviews with professors and staff from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Melbourne. Advice was also sought from engineering schools and faculties both interstate and overseas. The plans for the buildings reflected the fact that at that point in time the Faculty was intended to be grouped by engineering specialties, rather than individual departments. The plans also sought to take into account the growth and expansion that was expected for the new Faculty of Engineering.

This was clearly no simple task and there was much discussion about the size and location of laboratory space, lecture theatres and staff offices. To complicate matters, much about the form, shape and size of the Faculty was unknown – the future needs of the Faculty that were being incorporated into the building plans were based on estimations about the number of students and departments or disciplines that would be a part of the Faculty. All of these issues were still being determined by Foundation Dean Ken Hunt in consultation with the Vice-Chancellor, the Interim Council and academic staff of the new Faculty as they were appointed.

The first Master Plan of the University drawn up by the architects earmarked a cluster of yet to be constructed buildings to the north-east of the campus. The cluster was to the immediate north of the planned main library and administration block and was in close proximity to the proposed Applied Science and Science buildings. 

A Block Plan providing a more detailed view of the Engineering cluster was also drawn up in the early drafting stages. The Engineering Buildings were divided into seven blocks within which were offices, lecture theatres, laboratories, drawing rooms and various facilities specific to Engineering teaching and research. Early plans were based on a projection of 790 Engineering students by 1968. The estimated cost for the construction of these first Engineering Buildings was £1,482,000.

A three-staged plan was revealed for the actual construction of the buildings. Stage 1 would see the completion of Blocks 1, 2 and 4. On the ground floor of Block 1 was a communal staff area, printing facilities, toilets, a lobby and general office, administrative facilities, offices to house the Dean and Faculty Secretary, a conference room, several tutorial rooms and a lecture theatre.The first floor would comprise additional storage space, tutorial rooms and a series of drawing rooms.

The first floor of Block 1 would connect to Block 2 by a corridor along which were a series of staff offices located above an open concourse. Block 4 was planned to be a single storey building that would contain a locker room, a change room and toilet facilities.

In September 1960, Matheson sought approval from the Australian Universities Commission for the final Engineering Building plans. He advised that Stage 1 would include the construction of Blocks 1 and 2, both two storey buildings, and single storey Block 4. These three buildings, Matheson stated, would accommodate all Engineering staff and students during 1962. They would also be shared by other faculties as required.

Not long after Stage 1 was approved, Matheson had submitted the final plans for Stages 2 and 3 of the Engineering Buildings. They outlined the completion of the cluster that appeared on the Master Plan. Blocks 3, 5 and 6 as well as the boiler house would also be completed during these phases. 

In Stage 2 various percentages of the specified blocks would be completed. For example, 66% of Block 3, 42% of Block 5, 37% of Block 6, and what was referred to as a Heat Laboratory would be completed in Block 7. The cost of Stage 2 would amount to a total of £890,000 and would bring the total expended on the construction of the Engineering Buildings between 1961 and 1963 to £1,270,000 – not far off the original amount estimated in 1959.

The final phase, Stage 3 construction starting in 1964, would see the completion of all of the Engineering Buildings outlined in the Master Plan.

Master Plan Stages 2 and 3

Interestingly, the Stage 2 and 3 plans, which were drawn up in 1961, made provisions for what were at the time planned to be the specialty groupings within the Faculty – Electrical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Heat Engines and Thermodynamics. These sub-specialties were intended to act as discipline groupings instead of departments. According to the plans, additional specialty areas of Civil Engineering Structures and Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics would follow. Stages 2 and 3 would also bring about the construction of specialist laboratories as well as research and testing facilities, which were critical for the young Faculty if it was going to be at the forefront of teaching and research.

Detailed sketches of the buildings scheduled for construction during the second and third stages were provided for each building or block. With their provision for specialty areas, laboratories, testing facilities, lecture theatres, drawing rooms, teaching spaces and administrative offices, these plans were a strong expression of all that was hoped and planned for the Faculty of Engineering at Monash.


Stage 1 construction was well underway by August 1961. Indeed this initial phase had been completed by the end of that year. By this time Monash had been officially opened and the first students were attending lectures – all of which were held in the Science Building that had already been completed. The campus in these early days was a hive of construction activity that brought to life the intensive planning that had been going on behind the scenes for some time.

The first Monash University Calendar, published in 1964, carried a campus map. In comparison to the campus today it looks sparsely populated. A shaded key on the map reveals the buildings that had been finished, those that were under construction and those that were planned for the future.

According to this map, approximately two thirds of the three-staged Engineering Buildings plan had been completed by 1964. What had been known in the planning stages as Blocks 1, 2, 3 and 4 were fully completed, as was the boiler room and part of Block 6. The lecture theatres referred to in the planning documents as Block 5 were under construction, as was the remainder of Block 6. While there had been some alterations made to the original plans, the Engineering Buildings that were constructed fairly closely resembled those that had been planned during the late 1950s and early 1960s.  

Many of the finishing touches to the Stage 1, 2 and 3 buildings were completed in 1965 and 1966. A report from Bates, Smart and McCutcheon to the University in April 1966 noted that the Heavy Laboratory 2 reached completion in October 1965, Heavy Laboratory 3 was finished in February 1966, and the lecture theatres, though seven weeks behind schedule, would be completed by May 1966.

Despite the buildings activity and the pace of construction, by December 1964 Faculty Dean Ken Hunt had already reported to the University Council that a new Master Plan for the development of the Faculty of Engineering to its ultimate size had been commissioned. This plan was necessary as the projected requirements for the 1967–1969 triennium had turned out to be much greater than expected. The development plans for the young Faculty of Engineering had to be adjusted to reflect this demand. Accordingly, by 1968 an extension to one of the northernmost Engineering Buildings was underway, which was completed by 1970.

Around the time that the first University Calendar was released, the Engineering Buildings were renumbered. Gone were references to Blocks 1 – 6. Instead, there were Engineering Buildings 1 – 5 and the Engineering Lecture Theatres. Even though by this time, Engineering Building 5, which had originally been Block 6, had been extended to its full planned scale, still there was not enough room. The Faculty needed additional space.

In 1970, the architects submitted yet another set of plans for a new building – Building 6, which was in actual fact an extension to the east side of what was Engineering Building 4. The plans retained the same north and south alignments and dimensions as the existing building, so that on the map Building 4 and the new Building 6 appear to be one long structure. Plans to extend Building 4 had been around since 1969 when the Faculty of Engineering was allocated $1.32 million to construct an extension. In the end a total figure of $1.6 million enabled both an extension to the existing Building 5 and the construction of the new Building 6 to be undertaken.

Engineering Stage1

Building 6 was intended to provide additional laboratory space for the Departments of Chemical and Electrical Engineering as well as the newly created Materials Engineering. There would also be offices and teaching accommodation for the Faculty as a whole. Direct access between Buildings 5 and 6 would be provided via a partially enclosed footbridge on the first floor level. Building 6 would contain an annex for a high voltage laboratory as well as a measurements laboratory on the ground floor. Electron and optical microscopes and darkrooms would be located on the first floor. There were several other highly specialised facilities such as a Constant Temperature Room, Mechanical Testing Lab, Mass Transfer Lab and two Bio-Chemical Labs.

In September 1970 the Dean reported to the Faculty of Engineering Board that sketch plans for the new Engineering Building 6 had been approved. Hunt cautioned that it was unlikely it would be completed by August 1972. But, by the end of that year it had indeed been constructed and the planned extension to Building 5 was finished by December 1973.

Despite the extensions and new building, departments within the Faculty were still jostling for space. Hunt held meeting after meeting with the department heads to try and reallocate space and accommodate the needs of his growing departments. Finally, it was agreed that no amount of reshuffling would help – a seventh building had become a necessity. The first meetings about this next building were held in early 1973. Preliminary requirements were discussed and drawn up, and then, ultimately, a brief was created for the architects. The new building would house parts of the Departments of Civil and Mechanical Engineering and would be located to the east of Building 5.

Bates, Smart and McCutcheon were once again engaged to draw up the plans for the new building. Despite the relative speed of the drafting and design process in the past, the plans for Building 7 lagged. In June 1974 the Buildings Officer reported that the costs for the whole project were over budget by $518,000. An application for funding was submitted to the Australian Universities Commission, but no final ruling was made. The decision was postponed due to a scarcity of funds. While it had seemed that the plans for Building 7 were well under way, by 1975 they ground to a halt. 

Plans were postponed in 1976 for budgetary reasons, then delayed again the following year. By the end of the decade any plans to move forward on the construction of Building 7 were cancelled all together. But the plans for the new building were not forgotten. In 1981, in a letter to Buildings Officer John Trembath, then Dean of the Faculty, Professor Lance Endersbee, reaffirmed his Faculty’s dream of a seventh building. But both Endersbee and his Faculty still had several years to wait.

model of campus
Model of campus

It was not until 1988 that the Federal Government announced that one of the approved building projects for higher education was the long awaited Engineering Building 7 at Monash University. The Government would allocate a total of $5.51 million for its construction. This amount was then supplemented by various other funds, including Monash resources, because an examination hall was included in the building. A total of $8.42 million was eventually gathered to bring about Building 7.

The first sod was turned in 1990, and in 1991, Engineering Building 7 was finally a reality – nearly twenty years after plans were first drawn up. The following year Building 7 appeared on the campus map. About two years before Building 7 was completed, all of the Engineering buildings were renumbered. Building 1 became 31. The lecture theatres became Building 32, Building 2 became Building 33, Building 3 turned into Building 34, Building 4 became Building 35, Building 5 became Building 37 and Building 6 became Building 36. Building 7, as it had originally been known, when it was finally built, was renumbered Building 60. The suite of Engineering buildings that stands on the campus today was nearly complete.

Insert Scan of 1991 Campus Map from Engineering Handbook.

One more building was still to come. In thirty years the Engineering precinct on campus had slowly, but consistently, expanded as the Faculty strengthened and developed. State of the art teaching and research facilities were planned and built as specialist areas of inquiry emerged in the Faculty. The University itself was also growing. By 1991 – the year that Building 7 was finally completed – rolling mergers of universities and institutes of technology across Victoria had seen Monash expand to incorporate what had once been the Chisholm Institute of Technology and the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education.

Initially, it was intended that Engineering teaching and research would continue at the three Monash campuses. However, after several years of running three separate undergraduate degree courses and trying to sustain Engineering research across three campuses, it was eventually decided to consolidate most of the Engineering activities on the Clayton campus. But this consolidation and relocation would require more space, additional facilities and clearly, another building. Enter Building 72.

In March 1997 Monash sought expressions of interest from architects for the building of a new Engineering facility. The University planned to construct the new building at the west end of the Engineering precinct to accommodate the research activities that were being relocated from the Caulfield campus. The building would also incorporate a main Faculty entrance and a conference facility, the latter enabled by a long-standing bequest from Sir Alexander Stewart. By April 1997, architects Nigel Jenkins Pty Ltd had been engaged to design the new building and a total of $5.4 million was allocated for construction.

By 1999, Building 72 had been constructed and the Engineering precinct stood complete. Since then, the Engineering area on campus has been comparatively still and quiet, at least from the perspective of construction. No plans were being drawn up and no earthmovers could be heard. Until of course plans for the New Horizons Building came to light in more recent years.

The familiar sound of construction can once again be heard in the Engineering precinct as building of the large $175 million New Horizons complex gains momentum. This centre, which is scheduled to open in 2012, will be home to 300 Monash staff and 150 researchers from CSIRO. This is the latest building to join the Engineering precinct, an area that has been continually developing and expanding since the first plans were drawn up way back in 1958.


  1. Monash University Archives, 89/1510 Site Works – Engineering Building 60 (formerly Building 7)
  2. Monash University Archives, 97/0437 Site Works – Engineering Building 72
  3. Monash University Archives, 201 – 4.2.1 MA/7 Pt 1, Site – Overall Plan, 1958-1963
  4. Monash University Archives, 201 – 4.2.1 MA/7 Pt 4, Site – Overall Plan, 1967-1981
  5. Monash University Archives, 216 – 04.2.4 MM/250.1/0 Pt 1-2, Engineering Building Stages 1 and 2
  6. Monash University Archives, 216 – 04.2.4 MM/250.1/0 Pt 3, Engineering Building Stage 1, 1962-1974
  7. Monash University Archives, MON 1146 Full Faculty Meetings Minutes and Papers, 1961-1993
  8. Monash University Archives, Monash University Calendar
  9. Robert Blackwood, Monash University: The First Ten Years, Hampden Hall, Melbourne, 1968
  10. Louis Matheson, Still Learning, The Macmillan Company of Australia, South Melbourne, 1980