How to contemporise a building rich with history, without losing its essential character? It’s a perennial question for architects and builders, and Melbourne’s new Oxford Scholar Hotel is a stunning example of how to do it with elegant style.

A pub has existed on the current Oxford Scholar site at the northern end of Swanston Street since the Victorian gold rush era. Then it was surrounded by tobacco warehouses and a popular drinking spot for local workers. In the 1960’s it did a booming trade as the local student watering hole. The Oxford Scholar’s position in the heart of RMIT’s recently transformed City campus means it has retained its role as a much-loved meeting place and social venue for today’s students.

The main bar, plus bars on the first and second floor spaces were constructed with CD plywood, then clad with black Armalon vinyl. The lower front third of each bar is clad in 18mm spotted gum hardwood ply to match the floor and feature ceiling, and polished with a low VOC natural oil. Spotted gum features heavily throughout the renovation, adding a stylish heritage look that brings together all spaces into a cohesive whole.

The bars also feature a custom polished brass toe rail with brackets imported from the USA. The overhead steel canopy and wine glass holder was electroplated in yellow zinc, with integrated LED strip lighting.

Tabletops and seat bases in the booths and banquet seating were constructed with 33mm rotary peeled spotted gum armor panel with a solid brass beaded edge (the metal has been left raw to allow for a natural oxidized patina to develop over time). Banquet seating is upholstered in black vinyl, with custom rolled steel floating seat brackets and table base frames again electroplated in yellow zinc. A pleasing ‘green’ touch is added via the banquet’s integrated planter boxes clad in spotted gum with an internal waterproof membrane.

A feature timber screen that creates socialising areas within the main bar was created with spotted gum 60mm dowels, with brass detailing.

Meeting rooms on the top two floors are specially reserved for students, RMIT staff and community functions, and feature spotted gum table tops with a multilayer veneer edge. The larger meeting room tables sit on a custom round ply base structure clad in segmented 18mm spotted gum.

Beautifully integrating timber, steel, the building’s original brick walls together with contemporary styling The Oxford Scholar Hotel is all class, and a venue where, as architect Rodney Eggleston says, students and the general public can ‘plug-in, and tap out’.

  • architect: March Studio
  • builder: Schiavello