National Trust condemns University demolition of state heritage significant building: Robb College

The Statement of Significance by the National Trust

The Robb College, University of New England built between 1958-1964 is of cultural heritage significance for the local area and university fraternity. Robb College, University of New England, Armidale, has aesthetic and social significance identified as the first modernist college built to follow the design of the traditionalist Oxford quadrangle form.

Robb College is one of the first modernist college buildings to be erected on a university campus outside of Sydney. The use of the traditional quadrangle form widely employed for university colleges shows a renewed interest in the use of the Oxbridge model, rather than the American type campus planning of isolated buildings set in parklands.

The design is significant as one of a series of highly individual university buildings designed by the NSW Government Architect’s branch in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is also a significant example of the work of Michael Dysart.

The building illustrates a high degree of aesthetic significance through the use of standardised mass produced elements carefully arranged to achieve variations in the structure and courtyard and as a result cost saving through economy of scale.

The buildings’ social significance is expressed through the modern interpretation of the traditional courtyard and quadrangle akin to the Oxford model, and through the use of austerity in materials and importance of transparency and connection through the displacement and interconnection of spaces.

The Dining Hall Block is a well designed building, as indeed is the entire College complex, which through the clever interface of the four quadrangular buildings works as a unity despite the very different character of the dining hall block and the residential courts.

The College complex illustrates remarkable skill in the way practical and aesthetic considerations were combined to produce a building of the high quality while utilising the concept of mass production. This is particularly impressive achievement given the budgetary constraints. The construction costs were just over £2,000 per student making it the cheapest of the University of New England Colleges to build.

It is especially remarkable that it was the work of a 24 year old trainee in the NSW Government Architect’s Branch. This makes it a very apt building for a place dedicated to the nurturing of young minds. Robb College belongs to a sub-set, yet to be fully explored, of high quality substantial buildings designed in Australia by young architects. The list includes C. B. Alexander Presbyterian Agricultural College, Tocal, near Paterson, NSW designed by 25 year old Philip Cox in association with Ian Mackay in 1965 and the Old Treasury Building, Spring Street, Melbourne designed by 19 year old JJ Clark in 1858.

Michael Dysart went on to develop the quadrangular form he pioneered at Robb College and incorporated the concept into the design of high schools for the NSW Department of Education.

Dysart’s work at Robb is part of a special period in NSW architectural history when there was both a widespread public interest in good design and a strong commitment to it by the NSW Government Architects Branch. Under the creative stimulation of the Senior Designing Architect `Harry Rembert a number of talented young architects including Michael Dysart, Ken Woolley, Peter Hall, Peter Webber, Andrew Andersons and Lionel Glendenning were nurtured.

The Robb College was founded in 1960, named after the first Registrar of the University of New England, Mr William Menzies Robb. The College was originally established as a men’s college, then in 1977 female students were accepted. The College is non-denominational.

The College is known for its strong community spirit and emphasis placed on leadership, character, integrity and participation.



The New Proposed Project for the Robb College

Robb College, UNE