UWS climate change centre

18 January 2012 – Case study: Blackbutt timber linings and details were used in the refurbishment of the University of Western Sydney’s climate change and energy research centre because of its longevity durability and minimal environmental impact. Another reason was that the purpose of the building is to test climate change effects on natural plant matter, such as trees and plants, the project’ s designers said.

Highlighting a trend towards adaptive reuse of buildings, the work incorporated an existing 1930s two storey brick building and provided new research facilities, laboratories, post graduate offices, lecture theatres and a publicly accessible atrium and conference exhibition space.

Providing a natural link to the existing building’s timber gable roof structure and timber windows, Boral Timber’s Kiln Dried F27 blackbutt was chosen as a cladding and joinery treatment and used predominantly in the public areas.

Blackbutt timber linings and details were selected for a contemporary “vestibule tube” which connects the east and west entries of the building and timber battens  used in the construction of four fully functioning thermal chimney stacks which hang above the main atrium.

The battens with scrim cloth backing were also incorporated into wall and ceiling linings as an acoustic control to absorb direct sound in both the public areas and the lecture theatre.

Michael McPherson, senior associate with the architects, Suters said, “The design intent was to clearly differentiate the old from the new through material choices and detailing, while also maintaining the integrity of the original building.

He told The Fifth Estate the selection of the certified timber was a critical element in addressing sustainability considerations.

“Blackbutt timber selected for the reuse potential of the timber battens was carefully considered in the detailing and construction methods. The consistency of the batten profile and the type of fixing will allow for future recycling opportunities.

“The consistency of the profile also allowed for manufacturing benefits which in turn provide a contribution to a sustainable delivery.

“The selection of timber has a conceptual link to the building’s function and testing matter given that the inherent nature of the building is to test climate change effects on natural plant matter, such as trees and plants, “ he said.

Timber batten detailing and timber handrails were used as a linking material to contrast between the new hard surfaces of steel, tile and glass and the brick skin of the existing building fabric.

The timber’s golden yellow and pale brown colours worked well with other material selections, providing a perfect balance to the rich, earthy textures of the brickwork on the existing structure, Mr McPherson said

Timber, especially on the four thermal chimney stacks, was used to illustrate the distinct ways in which it can be used for an impact on sustainable design initiatives within the fitout of an existing building.

Asked if the work set any new boundaries or challenges for the company, Mr McPherson said:  “We have completed a range of similar university research buildings but this one was distinctive in many aspects.

“The specific inclusion of thermal ventilation chimneys within an overall environmentally sustainable design framework was a new and innovative challenge for the project team.

“Another special aspect was the opportunity to integrate and visually celebrate a range of environmentally sustainable development initiatives within a 1930s building, whilst dealing with the added layer of complexity provided by the inclusion of laboratory spaces”.

Timber elements were installed by Di Emme Creative Solutions and Choice Projects.

Robert Gonda a director of Di Emme Creative Solutions which created, designed and installed the thermal chimneys, said: “This project illustrates the distinct way in which timber can be used creatively.  Installing the fully functioning thermal chimney stacks was a unique and challenging project for us and required a high level of customisation including the testing and inspection of prototypes.”

The project, named finalist in the public category of the Building Products News Sustainability Awards 2011, was occupied in March last year.


Contractors:Buildcorp https://www.buildcorp.com.au

Architects: Suters https://www.sutersarchitects.com.au/

UWS: https://www.uws.edu.au/sustainability/sustainability