“The Design Hub will be a centre for collaboration – a place to develop world-class concepts and initiatives that will raise this city’s and Victoria’s international profile”- RMIT Vice Chancellor, Professor Margaret Gardner

by Lynne Blundell

July 5, 2009: With the appointment today of building contractor Watpac Construction (Vic), work will soon begin on RMIT’s new Design Hub, a building that will house some of Australia’s future design brains and is itself a design showpiece featuring leading edge sustainable technology.

RMIT Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Margaret Gardner AO, said she welcomed the appointment of Watpac Construction to the project:

“Watpac are renowned for their expertise in education projects, but also their commitment to environmentally sustainable design.”

Professor Gardner said that the Design Hub would be a “centre for collaboration – a place to develop world-class concepts and initiatives that will raise this city’s and Victoria’s international profile.”

She said that researchers in the building would work across academic disciplines on projects in industrial and urban design, fabric design, architecture and landscape architecture.

Work on the site, on the former Carlton United Brewery site on the corner of Victoria and Swanston streets, is due to start within weeks, with completion targeted by mid 2011.

The 12,000 square metre building, designed by architect and RMIT alumnus Sean Godsell, has been made possible by a $28.6 million grant from the Federal Government’s Education Investment Fund.

It will feature a “smart skin” – a translucent outer skin made up of over 16,000 sand blasted glass cells, some of which have photovoltaic collectors to harness solar power. This outer skin will control the building’s temperature by rotating with the sun’s movements, which will be tracked via a computer.

The skin is designed to be upgraded over time to accommodate new solar technologies as they emerge. And when it rains the sandblasted surface will become transparent, adding a further dimension to the dynamic nature of the façade. The façade will be able to be backlit and rear projected, giving it the potential to become a digital billboard.

The building will also feature an air filtering system that allows filtered fresh air to enter workspaces through the floor, giving occupants more control over the amount of outside fresh air in their space.

Other sustainable features will include rain and water harvesting, an internal waste management system, individual floor air handling and closed loop cooling towers.

Sean Godsell said that together with the State Library and Victoria Market, the RMIT precinct is one of Melbourne’s great assets, bringing a vitality to the northern end of the city.

“The former brewery site has been a missing piece in this part of town. Its re-development, starting with the RMIT Design Hub, is fantastic for Melbourne,” said Godsell.

“My office has been fortunate in recent times to have clients who are genuinely committed to intelligent environmental design and RMIT is one such client.”

Godsell said concerns about the environment and the direct impact this was having on building design was creating an exciting paradigm shifting moment in the history of architecture.

The Design Hub is in the vanguard of this shift in emphasis in architecture away from shape-making for its own sake and towards buildings that are high-performance, low-impact, sophisticated pieces of environmental engineering.”

This did not mean that such buildings were without theatre, as demonstrated by the Design Hub’s smart skin, said Godsell.

“Over the course of a number of projects now my office has explored the possibility that building envelopes can emulate the performance of human skin, including protection, temperature regulation, sensory perception, filtration and the ability to produce energy. The second skin of the Design Hub incorporates all these functions.

“The Design Hub’s automation system means that the cells track the sun to optimise exposure to PV collectors, to allow the ingress of winter sun and so on. Importantly the cells can be upgraded over time as solar technologies evolve.”

When completed the building will be the centre for RMIT’s work across academic disciplines on projects in industrial and urban design, fabric and fashion design, architecture and landscape architecture. The aim is to bring together industry, practitioners, academics and postgraduate researchers.

When completed the Design Hub will be the centre for RMIT’s work across academic disciplines on projects in industrial and urban design, fabric and fashion design, architecture and landscape architecture
  • build design capability to develop new and improved practices, techniques and tools for industry
  • raise awareness and disseminate use of design in industry – through exhibitions, events and publications
  • develop new products, services and constructed environments
  • transform established industries and grow new industries by developing design capability to increase the range of products and services
  • leverage innovative programs including the Design Victoria Strategy.

The building will contain large open plan research ‘warehouses’ with flexible furniture layouts and a variety of exhibition spaces, some of which will be open to the general public. It will also have a publicly accessible design archive housing permanent collections. There will also be a 300 seat multi purpose space, 250 seat lecture theatre, seminar and function rooms and a café.

Sean Godsell is working in association with Peddle Thorp Architects on the project. Other external consultants include Atkinson Project Management, Bassett as services consultant, structural engineering firm Fellecetti, building surveyors Philip Chun and Associates, Davis Langdon as quantity surveyor and Watpac Construction as the main building contractor.

Key Sustainability features

  • a ‘smart skin’ made up of over 16,000 sand blasted glass cells that track the sun via the building computer automation system to help shade and power the building
  • the skin has been designed to be upgraded over time to accommodate new solar technologies as they emerge
  • filtered fresh air can enter the workspaces through the floor giving users individual control over the amount of fresh air in their work environment
  • inner skin is a high performance double glazed layer.
  • rain and waste water harvesting
  • use of recycled materials
  • building automation to minimise energy consumption
  • internal waste management system
  • floor by floor air handling and closed loop cooling towers
  • monitoring and public display of energy consumption and ESD performance

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au