University of South Australia, Adelaide, Signage

Higher Calling

Emerystudio designs signs for the dramatic new “front door” of the University of South Australia.

The Hawke Building, named after former Australian prime minister Robert James Lee Hawke, is the new “front door” of the University of South Australia in Adelaide, one of the country’s top universities. It houses not only the university chancellor’s offices, but the Anne & Gordon Samstung Museum of Art and the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library and Centre.

Designed by John Wardle Architects with Hassell, the building completes an architectural promenade through the campus’ north/south axis. Its muscular design—a dramatic composition of dimensional concrete forms spliced by a glazed prism entry—was conceived as a conscious interpretation of the university’s complex, contemporary identity.

The architects brought Emerystudio (Melbourne) to the table to create a system of interior and exterior signs for the building. The Emery team’s job, says principal Garry Emery, was to honor the charismatic architecture while providing “unambiguous” wayfinding through the complex space.

Limited foyer space and the fact that the building contains three very disparate functions were key factors in the signage plan. Emery developed a system of 17 sign types—from external primary identity to interior identification and statutory signs—to direct visitors to either of two staircases to different levels and destinations.

One of the team’s primary goals was to avoid the University’s existing standard sign system, says Emery. “We had to convince the client to adopt a design scheme comprising physical objects and a graphic system that related specifically to the architecture. It was quite a challenge.”

But the team prevailed with a sign form characterized by lightness and simplicity, contrasting with the architect’s heavy use of concrete. Reminiscent of the building’s folded planar forms, the signs look like folded paper but are actually tall aluminum panels pin-mounted to concrete or drywall.

The front surfaces are painted to match the walls, while the backs are painted bright blue to add interest, animate the forms, and reflect color onto the wall surface beyond. The choice of lightweight aluminum made “folding” the forms possible. 

The result is a floating effect that implies an independent order of information, says Emery. While it looks effortless, it required some finessing, adds Andrew Adams, general manager of Consolidated Graphics (Clayton, VIC). “The most challenging aspect was the folding and mounting of the signs to ensure concealed fixings and make the panels appear to float.” The 5mm thick aluminum interior panels were painted with satin-finish two-pac automotive paint, with information a combination of screenprinting, cutout letters and logos, and engraved and filled text and graphics.

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 21, 2008

Jury comments

“Like folded paper, the sign forms have a lightness and delicateness to them. The typography rests gently on the surface of the sign panels with the delicateness of fine letterpress printing. A fine example wherein simplicity of form and typography executed with a master’s touch combine to speak clearly, quietly, and calmly.” 

“Superb austerity. Simple and pure. Beautiful indeed.” 


Location:  Adelaide, Australia

Client:  University of South Australia, Adelaide

Architecture:  John Wardle Architects with Hassell

Design:  Emerystudio

Design Team:  Garry Emery (principal in charge), Sarah Cope, Eva Lee

Fabrication:  Consolidated Graphics (primary entry sign and directory boards), Sign Scope (door and miscellaneous signage)

Photos:  University of South Australia

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