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Universities of the future: What sustainable buildings of learning will look like

Box Hill Institute

Box Hill Institute

14 October 2015 - Universities are creating dramatically different ways of teaching and interacting with their students. Students and staff want buildings that facilitate communication and collaboration, are healthy and comfortable to occupy, while minimising any negative impacts on the environment.

There is also a real interest in better understanding how these buildings are performing, and learning what works and what does not, using embedded sensors and real time monitoring.

At AIRAH’s The Future of HVAC 2015 Conference which was held in Melbourne on 18 -19 August, Aurecon Development Leader: Property, Jeffrey Robinson, discussed the future of sustainable university buildings and how these trends are impacting the type and form of new and refurbished university buildings.

“We are starting to see new ways in which these buildings are providing efficient and comfortable environments for the building occupants using a combination of good passive design, mixed mode heating and cooling, together with local occupant control,” said Robinson.

Learning methods continue to evolve, which also impacts on how these buildings are designed. With the new teaching methods that universities are adopting, there is a greater emphasis on collaborative learning and less on traditional ’chalk and talk’ lectures. There is also far more interest from students and staff on how well their university performs from a sustainability perspective. In the United Kingdom and America students can assess the sustainability of the universities they are considering attending, using publications such as The People & Planet University League in the UK and The Princeton Review’s Guide to 353 Green Colleges in the USA.

“Many leading universities in Australia and overseas have policies that their new and refurbished buildings shall achieve minimum sustainability standards such as Green Star and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Several Universities in Australia are following the example of Perth’s Curtin University by seeking to have their whole campus rated using the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Communities rating. There is also a real interest in better understanding how these buildings are performing,” said Robinson.

According to Robinson, consulting engineers and built environment professionals continue to find new ways in which these buildings provide comfortable, sustainable environments. Some of the examples he cited during his presentation include the University of Melbourne School of Design (MSD) and the Box Hill Institute’s Integrated Technology Hub (ITH).

“Leading universities can see the multiple benefits they can derive from constructing their new and refurbished buildings as sustainable buildings, including operating savings, improved learning outcomes and the positive publicity which will help them attract students and research funding,” said Robinson.

“Universities are starting to use their buildings of learning to teach their built environment, design and construction students how to design and construct buildings which provide  comfortable environments for the building occupants. This is an important trend that will help guide the design of sustainable university buildings in the future,” said Robinson.

MSD is an excellent contemporary example of a Living, Learning Building. The state-of-the-art academic facility was designed by John Wardle Architects (Melbourne) in collaboration with NADAAA (Boston). Aurecon acted as Project Manager in 2009 for the AUD129 million project and also contributed geotechnical, building services, facade and land surveying expertise from concept through to completion.

The building designers worked closely with the University to incorporate sensors (energy, water, CO2, humidity, temperature and flux) throughout the building. The information that the sensors record through the building management system is displayed on screens in the lobby to provide real-time information on the amount of energy and water the building is using.

“The building was designed to connect to its users and the real-time display of this information shows the building occupants how they are using the building and how it is performing. The entire design and construction process has been carefully documented and recorded, and members of the design team have given lectures to students of the Architecture, Planning and Construction schools, as well as the wider construction and property communities,” said Robinson.

The MSD building has been awarded a 6-Star Green Star Design - Education Design v1 rating by the Green Building Council of Australia and is the first education facility to be awarded the maximum 10 Green Star innovation credits.

Aurecon worked alongside the architect, Spowers, to create a functional, sustainable and comfortable learning environment for the Box Hill Institute’s ITH. The new building is a purpose-designed technical skills education facility that can accommodate up to 800 people and consists of a 4-level development with a usable floor area of 5 500 m2.

“Many of the students attending the ITH are learning about the design, construction and maintenance of  air-conditioning systems,  and this building was designed to demonstrate both good passive design and energy and water efficient air-conditioning systems. Four different types of HVAC systems were provided to service the building and allow the students to understand how much space is required to install and maintain these systems, as well as demonstrating how the different systems operate,” said Robinson.

Not only do university buildings continue to evolve to be greener and more energy efficient, but the building design also assists the institute to showcase best practice building services, sustainability design and operation.

“University buildings of the future will be increasingly conscious of energy and water consumption, waste and indoor environment quality. They will also use these initiatives to teach future architects, designers, engineers and planners how buildings function, why it’s important and how the future generation of built environment professionals can continue to improve on lessons learned,” concludes Robinson.

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