by Jerry ElengicalMar 29, 2022
Australian architectural firm Grimshaw prioritised effectiveness over efficiency for the architecture of The Woodside Building for Technology and Design, a transformational learning and teaching building for Monash University at their Clayton Campus in Melbourne, Australia. A case study in energy-efficient, regenerative design, the project has amassed awards and recognition for its simple yet pragmatic approach to sustainability. Conceived with Passivhaus (Passive House: a voluntary, internationally-recognised building standard which demands higher thermal comfort, increased energy efficiency and lower costs from buildings) metrics, the educational architecture emerges as an ultra-low energy building with all-electric services that integrate with purpose-built, immersive and interactive learning and laboratory spaces. Forgoing the platitude of architectural culture, where an energy-efficient building is often just a black box with little to no windows and a skin of solar panels, the project achieves rigorous sustainability standards to evolve with a sturdy, pleasing aesthetic as well.
The Monash University Woodside Building for Technology and Design "establishes new education standards and world-leading environmental innovation as one of the most energy-efficient and innovative teaching buildings of its type," the Australian architects share. The building becomes a landmark in its scope and size, making it truly ground-breaking within the realm of energy-efficient buildings and sustainable architecture. Among the largest Passivhaus certified educational buildings in the world, as well as the first major education building in Australia to achieve so, the project also establishes the groundwork for Monash to achieve net carbon zero by 2030.
The 19,000 sqm transdisciplinary facility is spread over five storeys, made distinct by its modular, expressive and subsequent rose red and matte grey intumescent painted steel framed armature, ordered into a geometry of three linear elements. These span 12m for the 'design-build studios' and co-lab spaces, 24m for flat floor and tiered learning spaces below and the academic and research above, and 6m for the informal breakout areas. The three lower levels accommodate 30 different modular learning spaces of varying dimensions, permitting a visually striking array of spatially interconnected volumes that orient themselves to sunlight and maximised views, furthering into the landscaped public realm of the campus.
The seemingly strict, lit volumetric composition of the programme "pursues a culture of inclusivity and interaction through visibility and spatial variety… The exposed reticulation of services is systematic, aligned to the frame and modular and become a surface or element of both performance and expression,” the design team relays. Some of the garnered awards by the project include the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects National Awards (2021), the David Oppenheim Award for Sustainable Architecture, Australian Institute of Architects National Awards (2021) and the Victorian Architecture Medal, Australian Institute of Architects Awards, VIC Chapter (2021).
The academic and research levels above are arranged within linear clusters of offices within the 24m wide trusses and two-storey top-lit atria for open workplaces. The three linear bands distinguish themselves by circulation spines that stretch along the length, interspersed with informal spaces that situate stairs within interconnecting voids and break-out spaces overlooking and looking into tree canopies. The building’s south occurs through a four-storey glazed atrium with a tiered open theatre connecting all levels of teaching, while it looks back towards the campus across the ironbark eucalypts that line the alumni greens. The 120m long building is bisected by a five-storey exhibition atrium and connects the Engineering Precinct to the new campus green within the Innovation and Industry Precinct.
The Woodside Building for Technology and Design is one of the most energy-efficient and innovative teaching buildings of its type, using solar energy as its renewable fuel source. It is able to balance the need for airtightness, insulation and shading from solar gain, while embracing the abundant illuminance of sunlight, and prominence of views, both within itself and with the outside. An arrangement of distributed service cores minimises the reliance on energy to condition and reticulate air, along with enabling shaded top light that illuminates the interiors of the 48m deep floorplate while minimising solar gain. "The combination of active and passive environmental strategies defines the building’s expression and operations," reiterates Grimshaw.
"It initiates new models of learning alongside academic research clusters and administration, positioning them with industry-related enterprise and simultaneously integrating precedent-establishing environmental innovation. The building is a pilot of leadership in learning environments with immersive and interactive technology and additive and advanced manufacturing laboratory spaces for students and researchers to embrace innovation, design and cutting-edge technology for the development of new solutions in sustainable energy technology,” relays Andrew Cortese, Managing Partner, Grimshaw. The architects fine-tuned the structure to serve as a living laboratory for the IT and engineering students and researchers, who can learn first-hand, how the building prioritises occupant comfort, and indoor air quality while reducing energy consumption.
The sustainable architecture is organised to serve spaces that are aligned according to their function as well as climactic response. It also eludes to a ubiquitous approach of a solo solution to achieve these energy performance goals. “At the same time, the organisation of the building into adaptable and flexible modules within a frame will enable exceptional diversity and performance. The exposed reticulation of services is systematic, aligned to the frame and modular, and become a surface or element of both performance and expression,” Cortese continues.
In compliance with the stringent Passivhaus requirements for energy consumption, the layered interior design uses informal teaching spaces and corridors as buffer zones, placed nearer to the façade with access to natural light, while the formal ones with the highest usage of energy are placed in the centre of the building. A series of skylights located at the centre of the building direct daylight into its central volumes and onto its lower floors. This performance-based approach struck a coherent balance between access to optimised daylight, opening up the space as well as maximising views across all floor plates. The predominant east/west orientation was fundamental to associate the university building with the landscaped campus fabric, in tandem with activating the life inside and outside the built structure.
The building's orientation intently embraces its relationship with solar gain, amassed by deep vertical louvre blades or baffled skylights, enabling natural illumination and enlivenment of the interior learning and workspaces, and a "circadian activation" of the ground level's public realm.
The facades find detail in a filigree of louvres that capture light and reflect within, while deeply shading the structure. The dusky, matte grey, finely crafted louvres allude to the striation of the black trunks of the ironbarks growing tall nearby, while the rose gum red louvres define circulatory spaces, inspired by the thin stamens of gum nut flowers.
Other interventions comprise PV (photovoltaic) panels placed on the roof of the massive building footprint, designed to produce one-third of the total renewable energy consumed by it. Half of the striking ribbed envelope is made of solid, the other half transparent, highly insulated curtain wall with high-performance glass panels which are double glazed with Argon filling. Apart from producing renewable energy, the roof is also employed as a catchment and a rainwater harvesting tank that feeds flush devices and the irrigation system.
The myriad stairs (vertical circulation) are fully glazed and screened with a panelled external louvre system that is designed specifically to avoid overheating. The staircases sit inside the thermal envelope where spilt air from the internal conditioned space allows the temperature to remain within the comfort range, encouraging staff and students to use the stairs instead of the lifts, which consequently, reduces overall electricity demands.
Due to the compact construction timeframe and following standards of sustainability, Grimshaw adopted several design solutions to embed the efficiency in the building fabric. The main building components were conceived as prefabricated elements that helped with the tight time frame, where the modularity and material optimisation helped reduce wastage. Owing to the large building footprint (4,600 sqm), instead of a centralised plant room, the mechanical services were divided and located in two separate rooms, situated to serve different sections of the building, ultimately, minimising energy loss due to service reticulation.
The experiential intention of the Australian architecture arose with an aim to mingle the learning environment with the campus' public realm, to unite them under one cogent landscape. "The materiality, detail, tonality and surface effect are performative and derived not only from the environmental response but towards a sensitivity to place, landscape and culture,” Cortese says.
"Architectural expression evolves from performance, experience and production beyond the mandate of environmental defence. A rich and varied tectonic expression delicately composed of materials affiliated to place and cultural relationships, landscape attunement, climate reflection and endurance. The building intends for Monash to impart a global impact in academic and learning excellence in concurrence to environmental leadership, and industry partnerships into campus, student and academic staff with a deep commitment to encouraging the imperative of the social,” concludes Grimshaw.
Name: Monash Woodside Building for Technology and Design
Location: Clayton, Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 3800
Gross square area: 23,000 sqm
Area: 19,000 sqm
Client and owner: Monash University
Architect and interior designer: Grimshaw
Design Team: Grimshaw, Aurecon, Lendlease, Bollinger+Grohmann, Aspect Studios, Prism Façade
Design Director and Partner in Charge: Andrew Cortese
Project Director and Partner: Michael Janeke
Project Architect and Principal: Cristian Castillo
Structural Engineer, ESD, Civil Engineer, Fire Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Lighting, Hydraulic Engineer, Acoustic Engineer, Façade Engineer: Aurecon
Landscape: ASPECT Studios
Environmental Analysis: Bollinger + Grohmann
Project Manager: Root Projects
Education Advisors: Six Ideas
General contractor: Lendlease