CASE STUDY – Architects for the new Faculty of Law building at the University of Sydney, Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp say this “international competition-winning proposal transforms the public domain of the heart of the University through the integration of architecture, urban design and landscape architecture.
“The project redefines the historic relationship of the campus and city to create a generous new public domain with the study of law balanced at its edge.
“An inventive aspect of the competition scheme was the division of the extensive building brief into podium and superstructures to create an extended new public ground-plane of gardens, squares, and lawns.
“Below this new civic domain are specialist teaching facilities, and library lit through the environmental and emblematic ‘light-tower. Suspended above are a series of innovative multi-layered glass and timber louvered superstructures that accommodate the remaining brief into fragments that define and frame new public spaces.
“These splintered forms are frozen or locked into position by three glass and metal elements, and a spatial urban shaft. A cubic glass atrium locks the fragments of the triangular teaching form into spatial and urban alignment. A curvilinear, sculptural of stainless steel penetrates the primary platform delineating the open space as a figure against the silent backdrop of the adjacent library stack, announcing the presences of the Library below as it draws in natural light. A louvered metal box extends the public circulation and reaches out towards the park in the form of a student lounge. The final locking is through the once obscured spatial shaft envisioned by Leslie Wilkinson, now released and extended through broad civic steps into the Park and City.
“Emphasis is placed on informal teaching and collaboration spaces such as the ‘social-hub’ bridges that form an urban window framing the new campus entry. Here teachers and students are suspended in a transparent layer between city and campus, over new public spaces and a more open and equitable campus.
“It is openness and transparency that marks the new open entrance to the University, with the splintered form above extending wide like an open door or hand that gestures invitation.
“The material of the splintered forms are layers of glass and timber louvers suspended on fine stainless steel rods creating a kinetic grain that changes with the position of the sun and preferences of those within. The gentle curve of the plywood louver creates its own structural brace and rigidity while softening the daylight around its profile. This ventilated double skin systems creates reflections of the park landscape and neo-gothic sandstone facades over the varying grain of the curved timber screens: A distilled reflection of the form, its means and its intent.
“This project was an opportunity to develop an integrated and innovative sustainability agenda to meld with its ambitious urban, architectural and symbolic goals.
“Sustainability is integrated throughout the project from siting and urban initiatives which reclaim public space from surface car-parking, reconnect the campus to Victoria Park and harvest and reuse rainwater from a large portion of the campus, through to building wide energy efficient infrastructure and services, passive thermal control, natural light and ventilation systems and environmentally sustainable material selection. Individual elements such as the Library light tower draw in and reflect natural light deep into the library floor plate and ventilate out stale warm air, to the highly innovative and automated layered external façade which combines sophisticated environmental tuning for the offices with unconstrained individual control, which also creates a unique, kinetic and at times dramatic display of the interrelationship of the built form with the environment.
“The innovative triple layered, cavity façade system on the Law Faculty offices has few precedents. This system provides thermal control through a combination of high performance glass, automated stack effect natural ventilation and automated sun-shading louvers. The system allows individual offices to choose passively tempered natural ventilation, mixed mode air conditioning, degree of sun penetration, views and natural light and provides acoustic screening of the traffic noise from nearby major roads and between offices. The use of natural timber from sustainable sources provides visual warmth to the workplace.
“The architecture of the project has been developed to enhance natural light penetration, and access to views and fresh air. The workplace areas are within shallow depth floors with generous natural light, circulation and public spaces are fully naturally ventilated. High performance glazing combined with thermal mass and automated natural ventilation systems, controls heat whilst automated shading systems control sun penetration. All automated systems are centrally controlled via the BMS for fine-tuning and efficiency.
“Access to natural light and views are provided to spaces that often do not have such amenity. Eight of the sixteen seminar spaces are provided with windows notwithstanding the initial brief. A network of atriums, skylights and open stairs combine with the light tower to draw natural light deep into spaces located below Eastern Avenue.
“Where spaces require air-conditioning, high fresh air rates combine with healthy and efficient systems to improve comfort and wellbeing. Displacement systems are used in the large teaching spaces and active chilled beams and displacement systems are used in the library area.
“Materials have been selected based on sustainable sources, low-toxicity, life cycle analysis and zero ozone depletion potential. The interiors were integrated into the design and the construction to reduce waste and a construction waste recycling and reuse plan was implemented.
“This project strives to extend the boundaries of Environmentally Sustainable Design within a conventional University/Public building brief and budget through design innovation and pervasive awareness of opportunities for improvement of the local and internal environment and the effects on the environment at large.
“The environmental vision for this project was to create a situation whereby doing the best thing for the environment results in a superior learning environment for students and working environment for academics.
“The sustainable design focussed on two key factors which have been proven to positively affect people’s ability to learn and concentrate; daylight and fresh air.
“All teaching and office spaces showcase excellent natural daylight availability incorporating cutting edge façade design and blinds which are automatically adjusted to the ideal position to mitigate glare and heat infiltration.
“Daylight is delivered to the underground law library via the impressive light tower, which is also a focal point of the plaza.
“All learning spaces and offices are provided with either natural ventilation or increased mechanical ventilation rates, so that cleaner, fresher air is available. This enhances health, concentration and ability to learn.
“The Faculty of Law was designed prior to the existence of Green Star Education so a project specific benchmarking scheme was developed which targeted a 5 star rating equivalent to Australian Excellence.
“The innovative, passive sustainability features in the Faculty of Law building are perfectly fused and integrated with the modern, efficient services. This results in an efficient, functional building which is cost effective to operate and provides significant health and productivity benefit to the occupants.
“This is a sustainable building which truly realises the vision of providing enormous benefit to the environment and also nurturing learning by greatly improving the indoor learning environment.”