Union Complex redevelopment

A safe space for students and a home for debate and activism on campus.

Updated 29 March 2022

The University and UQ Student Union (UQU) are working together on the redevelopment of the Union Complex at St Lucia, including on the design approach, inclusions and governance.

The redeveloped complex will maintain its legacy as a space where students can connect and feel safe and supported, as well as being a home for debate and activism on campus.

Our community will be kept up to date and will be asked to provide input as the project progresses through the various phases of the redevelopment.

Read the joint message from UQ Vice-Chancellor, Professor Deborah Terry and UQ Student Union President, Emily Searle.

Key updates and commitments

  • Elected UQU President has been appointed as a member of the project steering committee
  • The new complex will retain the Union Complex name
  • The Schonell Theatre, Forum and Union Building (building 21A) will be retained, unless there are major cost or accessibility impediments
  • A new village-style design direction has been agreed.

Returning to design first principles

The University announced it was going back to first principles on the project last year, acknowledging that previous design and usage principles did not have wide support from our diverse community.

As part of this reset, the elected UQ Student Union President was made a member of the Union Complex Executive Steering Committee – the body responsible for guiding the redevelopment.

A new village-style design direction was agreed by the Committee for the redevelopment. The village-style approach will better reflect the original intent and nature of the complex.

It has also been agreed that the cultural and historical environments and aspects of the complex, such as the Schonell Theatre, Forum and Union Building (building 21A), will be retained and incorporated into the new design concepts, unless there are major cost or accessibility impediments to doing so.

Acknowledging the past

The new complex will retain the Union Complex name, in recognition of UQU’s deep connection with the location and to reflect the cultural and historical significance of the area.

Architecture and design firm Conrad Gargett has been engaged by the Committee. They are meeting with students, alumni and staff to understand what the complex means to them and what experiences from the past should be reflected in the redevelopment for future generations of students.

Based on these discussions, the following principles will be included in the briefing documents for architects tendering for the project:

  • The new complex must reflect the history and voices of past student generations
  • It must remain true to its original intent – a space for students to connect and belong
  • It must be a safe place that stands for democracy and free speech.

Students from the UQ School of Architecture and Dr Don Watson have also briefed the Committee on possible ways to adapt and re-use elements of the current complex in the future redevelopment.

Schonell Theatre update

In May 2021, the Schonell Theatre and Geoffrey Rush Drama Studio were temporarily closed for asbestos dust removal and essential electrical and fire-safety assessments.

After considering the comprehensive assessment reports and having assessed the feasibility of the safety works required, the University and UQU have agreed not to reopen the theatre prior to the redevelopment of the Union Complex being completed.

Together, we will work hard to ensure that the Schonell Theatre is a central part of the redeveloped Union Complex.

The theatre will continue to provide a space free from censorship for student-led performances and community use.

Temporary theatre to support student-led performances and student space

While the Schonell Theatre remains closed, the University and UQU will maintain its support for student-led performances.

We will be working with student clubs and societies to find suitable alternative performance spaces and provide support with associated costs. Student-led performance groups should contact schonell.theatre@uqu.com.au.

This includes the restoration of the Avalon Theatre on Sir Fred Schonell Drive for use as a teaching and performance space for students and the community.

Key timings for the project

Plans are underway to temporarily relocate the essential student services and facilities provided by UQU, and currently located at the Union Complex, in preparation for site works next year in 2023.

The University and UQU will share with the community the proposed design approach and principles before they are put out to tender. Details will be confirmed in the coming months.

Tender documents for the project will be provided to architects in the second half of 2022.

Site preparation works will commence in 2023.