Interview with Prof Geoff McColl

Head of the Melbourne Medical School, Professor Geoff McColl talks about Faculty's future infrastructure needs and the benefits of bringing all six schools together under one roof.

Hear more from Prof Geoff McColl on the vision for a new home for the Faculty.

For years, Geoff McColl has been pondering the best way to upgrade the Medical Building, situated on the corner of Grattan Street and Royal Parade – the same site as the new metro station.

McColl believes the station, part of the $10.9 billion Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, offers a great opportunity to design a new entrance to the University and the Parkville biomedical precinct – one that extends a welcome to the public.

The full impact of the metro construction will depend on how the contractor proceeds with the task. McColl says the Faculty’s leaders must do what they can to protect staff and students from the coming disruption. Telling people what to expect as the metro is being built, and painting a picture of where the Faculty is heading, will be part of this process. “It is very important that this is managed well,” he says.

He also hopes that the new building will encourage the many disparate parts of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences to work together. “The building is an enabler to provide a home, to enact our mission,” he says. “It needs to have a sense of purpose.”

“The building is an enabler to provide a home to enact our mission. It needs to have a sense of purpose.”

The idea that well-designed spaces foster creative collaborations is already being demonstrated at the University’s children’s campus, which is the home of the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the University of Melbourne’s Department of Paediatrics. The success of that model, and other similar examples around the world, have convinced McColl that the Faculty will be strengthened if its researchers – who are now working in 20 separate buildings – are brought under one roof.

McColl worked in a building designed to encourage a sense of esprit de corp when he was a researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. He says its former director, Sir Gustav Nossal, planned the structure “around the tearoom on the seventh floor”. McColl says a commandment for WEHI researchers was “thou shalt go to morning and afternoon tea”. Most people went to morning tea at least, he recalls. If you had the courage, you could use this time to approach someone you admired.

McColl would like the new medical building to reach out to other disciplines on campus as well – to engineering, science and law, for instance. He wants the architecture to answer the question: “how do we extend the connection within the University in which we find ourselves?”

Finally, the new building must provide a home for the new researchers who will join the University to work on projects made possible by the $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund. This is an extraordinary opportunity, and the Faculty needs to be ready for it, argues McColl. “The building will be an enabler,” he says, “and the money will be the second enabler.”