What does the emergence of a new precinct on campus mean for ANU? Amanda Cox reports.
Fifteen years ago on a bitter winter day, I drove eight hours from my home in Melbourne to Canberra to visit a university I had hardly heard of.
Community is exactly what building Kambri is all about.
I parked next to Union Court and stepped out of my barely roadworthy hatchback. Dressed in my warmest jumper, I wasn’t ready for the bone-chilling cold that is Canberra on a windy July day. It literally took my breath away.
Persevering through the cold, I toured the science precinct, speaking with passionate researchers about honours projects I was considering. The more people I met, the more I realised that ANU is not just an academic institution, it is a community.
I was sold on the community, but not so much on the spaces where the community resided. I remember walking from Union Court to the city, looking for people and excitement. I walked along University Avenue to Garema Place looking for a city – and didn’t find one.
As I contemplated my move to Canberra, I considered how I was going to live there. Would there be things to do? Could I make friends?
My story is not unique. Things have changed. Canberra’s CBD is livelier than ever and I now own multiple down jackets. But one thing remains the same – it’s the community of ANU that keeps drawing me back.
And community is exactly what building Kambri is all about.
“I believe it’s really important for every student to be part of the University – to feel a sense of belonging at the University,” ANU Chief Operating Officer Chris Grange says.
“Being part of a community and developing networks not only improves our mental health, but our outlook on life in general.
“Research that I’ve commissioned over the years suggests that this sense of belonging within a university and being part of a university also has a big positive impact on academic progress.”
Grange and ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington have led the biggest building project ever undertaken by the University, from thought bubble to a $263 million project.
“We undertook four years of research, consulted expert designers and listened to the views of more than 5000 students, staff, alumni and community members before a single cubic metre of earth was removed,” Grange says.
“Building ‘happiness’ with the wooden buildings and paved walkways was a central pillar to the project, with the added benefit of encouraging interaction and innovation,” Hughes-Warrington says.
"The whole point is to create spaces where students feel comfortable and can make friends. If you make a really friendly place where people want to hang out, they will be happier studying.”
Community feedback reinforced the importance our community attaches to green space, trees and the culturally significant creek.
“It left the lasting impression that places are not just about hanging out, they are a support for success,” Hughes-Warrington says. “They help us to feel part of something, even when we do not know the people around us.”
Through my work as a communications manager, I have been lucky enough to meet many people, and they all share a passion for making a space that not only meets the needs of the community, but goes beyond what is happening now to meet the needs of a community into the future.
And now, I am most excited about visiting Kambri with my family, parking my updated hatchback underneath University Avenue, and walking out to the new laneway to eat noodles and dumplings.
As I watch the world go by from a make-shift milk crate chair, I will be wondering, ‘Does this deliver on the original vision for Kambri?’ and more importantly, ‘Is this a place where everyone feels they belong?’.