By Lyn Drummond

24 August 2011 – Sustainable features which can double as educational tools have been incorporated in the design of the $20 million Mabel Fidler Resources Hub Building for Ravenswood School for Girls in the northern Sydney suburb of Gordon.

Fergus Curran, an associate mechanical engineer for  Umow Lai Sydney, which handled the work, said: “These sustainability elements can be used as tools to educate students on the impact of their behaviour on carbon emissions, a most popular topic.”

Anthony Matthews, Umow Lai’s NSW state manager and one of the company’s  eight directors told The Fifth Estate the concept of sustainable buildings as a teaching tool was not a new one.

“However, it has gained momentum over the past few years.  Ever since ‘Bob the Builder’ changed his slogan to reduce, reuse, recycle and integrate wind turbines and solar panels into his buildings, children have had an increased understanding and interest in sustainable buildings.  It is scary how up to date your average three year old is on the current trends in sustainability”.

“Sustainability and climate change is really on the agenda in our schools, we recently gave a talk to a local grade three class about the recently completed Pixel building.

“The children had been learning about the effects of climate change and sustainability and showed a great understanding of renewable energy and water savings, proudly telling me about their water tanks, solar panels and school green team.

“At the secondary education level we are really seeing a push for buildings where the students can track the performance and develop a deeper understanding of how buildings operate, therefore, as at Ravenswood, building monitoring screens are provided.

“The students are particularly keen to see the water usage and carbon emission, which provides the teachers with opportunities to discuss sustainability principles and ways the students can impact sustainability in their own lives.

“Going beyond the simple tracking at tertiary level, the buildings themselves become part of the research into the building material performance, prototype systems and in the case of the Pixel building, plant and growing media for green roofs, “ he said.

The project has not been without some challenges. Mr Curran said one of the main ones was centred on the installation of an internally ventilated, see-through Rodeca polycarbonate façade, the first of its type in NSW.

The façade includes rain and wind sensors that are connected to a monitoring system that closes the ventilation flaps at the top of the façade in inclement weather.

“Tests were carried out in Melbourne to ensure that the façade met all Australian standards prior to its installation – and they did. But because of the translucent nature of the facade, we have had to ensure that all cables, pipe work and other services were reticulated away from the façade and will remain invisible,” he said.

Another challenge: was making sure that the new building was seamlessly connected to the school’s adjacent centenary centre.

A prominent green feature of the new hub is the Fytogreen vertical garden wall erected outside the existing centenary centre.

As well as being attractive, it has another important use: the plants conceal all the air intake and exhaust systems for the new commercial kitchen and the down pipes from the existing roof.

The new building comprises a junior and secondary student resource centre, several spaces for study, meetings and relaxation, a careers office, a café with a commercial kitchen, a suite of new classrooms and seminar spaces, reception and designated staff areas.

Umow Lai is providing mechanical, electrical, information communications technology, fire protection and hydraulic services for the project. It is its first project for the Ravenswood school.

Additional key features of the building include:

  • Rain water reuse
  • Mixed mode airconditioning incorporating reed switches on openable windows that disarm the airconditioning when the windows stay open
  • Strategically placed touch screens at the entrance to the library that detail how much energy the building is using and further help reduce energy consumption.

The project team includes:

  • BVN Architecture, architects
  • Sandrick Project Directions, project management,
  • Cockram Constructions, builder
  • Taylor Thomson Whitting, structural and civil engineers,
  • Oculus, landscape architects
  • ESD consultant Cundall

Oculus helped BVN prepare the masterplan for the campus as well as the design development and documentation of the landscape works associated with the Mabel Fidler Building. The firm  worked with Junglefy in the detailed design and documentation of the four panels of the green wall which replaced a brick wall.

Water and nutrients are recycled through the panels of native and exotic plant material grown especially for the project.

Elsewhere Umow Lai,  named after  its founding directors George Umow and Dominic Lai – Dominic Lai is managing director – is also currently engaged on Legion House in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, which is designed to become a carbon neutral building, and Port Macquarie Hospital.

Mr Matthews said Legion House would be Sydney’s first off grid carbon neutral CBD building with a lot of focus on the production of synthesis gas. The company successfully completed the fitout of the AMP building, level 17, 50 Bridge Street, Sydney that achieved a 4 star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

With BVN the company has also started construction on the National Life Sciences Hub at Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, NSW, which is set to be one of the first 5 star Green Star rated university laboratories in Australia, Mr Matthews said.