Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Ian Potter Southbank Centre, Australia


Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Ian Potter Southbank Centre, Australia

Using sustainability principles for the world-class music education facility

  • Aurecon services: Building services, environmentally sustainable design, fire engineering
  • Client: University of Melbourne
  • Project team: John Wardle Architects, Lendlease, Marshall Day Acoustics

Aurecon reaches the high notes for a world-class music education facility.

More than 1 000 students and staff have moved into the state-of-the-art Ian Potter Southbank Centre, the new home for the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Part of the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus, the conservatorium building is in the heart of the Melbourne Arts Precinct in Southbank.

The conservatorium is Australia’s oldest, largest and most prestigious music institution and has made the move from the historic, century-old Melba Hall. The University of Melbourne Southbank campus brings together existing conservatorium staff and students, and students from the Victorian College of the Arts.

Designed by John Wardle Architects, Aurecon’s expertise has been used in the design of the building services, environmentally sustainable design (ESD), and fire engineering aspects of the eight-storey building.

Meeting sustainability commitments

The University of Melbourne has made ambitious commitments to lead and act on sustainability in everything it does, including a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

This was a key driver for Aurecon in designing the building services and ESD initiatives, to deliver a world-class learning environment and acoustic facility, using best practice sustainability principles. 

A strategic sustainability approach

To meet the University’s sustainability aspirations, Aurecon applied the following design principles to its building designs:

  • 100 per cent electric and zero-carbon ready building
  • World-class acoustics
  • Healthy and high comfort indoor environment
  • Vibrant and visible spaces
  • Tight and thermally-efficient building envelope
  • Cost effective and low energy building services

These principles were strengthened by interviews that Aurecon undertook with conservatorium students. They emphasised their desire for natural light  in practice rooms, comfortable spaces, connectivity to green spaces, and care for the environment.

The building has achieved and been certified as a 5 Star Green Star Design Star as Built v1.1 from the Green Building Council of Australia.

Designing for a zero-carbon ready building

This zero-carbon ready building avoids natural gas as its fuel source. Aurecon designed an all-electric building with a 64 kW photovoltaic array system to supply at least 15 per cent of the building’s energy consumption.

To bolster the use of renewable energy, the University has entered into a Purchase Power Agreement with the Murra Warra Wind Farm.

Aurecon incorporated alternative strategies for hot water generation without the need for a gas connection. A system of four-pipe air-source heat pumps was installed in conjunction with a high-efficiency chiller for both heating and cooling. In a building where populations can fluctuate from room to room, particularly in the large performance spaces, the need for simultaneous heating and cooling can be frequent. The four-pipe heat pumps operate at their highest efficiency in this mode which offers benefits for fluctuations in room occupancy.  

The domestic hot water primarily used for the building’s amenities is generated through simple instantaneous electric hot water units installed to suit the exact needs of the building.

Creating the optimum acoustic environment

To reflect the architectural intent for the acoustic environment, Aurecon worked closely with Marshall Day Acoustics to ensure the mechanical systems incorporated very low air velocities.

This reduces pressure drops and inherently contributes to low energy consumption through reduced fan energy.

Daylight and views

The conservatorium students wanted to feel connected to nature and gain the benefit of daylight to positively influence the natural circadian rhythms of their music so there are windows in every space. This offers natural light to people inside the building and each space is fitted with the latest in LED technology and controls for manual adjustment to provide comfortable lighting levels.

The creation of an adjacent park for staff and students connects the indoors with the outdoors and encourages the public community to engage with the building as well.

A dynamic world-class facility

The new conservatorium provides a dynamic environment for music education and collaboration. The location gives the staff and students access to 20 arts organisations in the neighbourhood, including the Melbourne Recital Centre, the Australian Ballet, the Arts Centre Melbourne and the Melbourne Theatre Company.

Supported by the City of Melbourne, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Victorian Government, and the Myer Foundation, together with other sponsors, the project incorporates a 443-seat cantilevered auditorium, 180-seat ground floor studio and rehearsal spaces.

It presents an opportunity for students, staff and alumni to collaborate, compose, curate and perform new works together, to engage with major international artists, and to connect with the public via performances.


The project has won the following awards:

  • Winner: AIA National Architecture Awards 2020 – Daryl Jackson Award for Educational Architecture,
  • Winner: AIA National Architecture Awards 2020 – Marion Mahony Award for Interior Architecture 
  • Winner: AIA Victorian Chapter Awards 2020 – Educational Architecture

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