A $30 million community centre under construction in Glenroy in Melbourne’s 15 kilometres north is going for two formidable sustainability certifications: Passive House and Living Building Challenge Petal certification.
Moreland City Council, which declared a climate emergency in 2018, is behind the Australian-first project. Melbourne architecture studio DesignInc Architects rose to the challenge and WSP provided most of the engineering services.
According to project leader Kieran Leong, an associate at DesignInc Architects, the Passive House community building – which will have a library, kindergarten, a community health centre and other services – came with its challenges. So far, the majority of PH projects are residential or commercial buildings.
The library’s after-hours book return chute, for example, posed a problem for the super energy efficient building style characterised by an airtight envelope and mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system.
“It’s effectively a hole in the wall.”
Leong says the building’s size created some wiggle room on the airtightness as its large volume and relatively small surface area minimises heat escape.
Achieving Passive House is becoming less expensive as capabilities and supply chains in Australia mature. But at this stage, there is still an upfront cost premium (though that’s paid back before long through reduced operational costs), with Passive House elements accounting for roughly 2 per cent on top of the council’s stringent ESD requirements.
A workable combination
According to Leong, the two challenging certification schemes complemented one another.
To achieve Living Building Challenge “Petal” certification (the older version), the facility must meet performance criteria across seven categories: place, water, energy, health + happiness, materials, equity and beauty.
The project must meet baseline requirements across each category as well as supplementary criteria across its three chosen ones: energy, equity and beauty.
Of these three categories, energy is the hardest, calling for 105 per cent of the building’s needs to be met onsite.
A 250kW solar system will be enough to meet the single storey building’s energy needs given the energy efficient Passive House design, which can cut operational energy use by 90 per cent.
Leong says that the array will provide 125 per cent of the facility’s energy needs. Teamed with 64KWh of battery storage that will allow the facility to run without additional power for a week, he says the building will be double as a refuge site during emergencies such as bushfires and heatwaves.
The building will also be gas-free (including childcare kitchen equipment) and fully electric.
Yep, Passive House buildings can be beautiful
Leong also assures The Fifth Estate that meeting Passive House certification won’t jeopardise the project’s chance of meeting the “beauty” component of the LBC either, with the centre featuring rounded walls and risen skylights to allow natural light in.
“A Passive House can have curves… anyone who knows anything about it gets that.”
The equity petal is all about providing universal access, Leong explains, which was a priority for the council given Glenroy’s diverse, multicultural community with enduring socio-economic challenges.
The council wanted to provide ready access to nature and the wellness-promoting experience of gardening. As such, the building fronts a park and is set in ample green space with a community garden and a shed to keep tools.
Visitors will also have access to a variety of spaces, including quiet spots and places to meet and mingle.
Drawing on biophilic design principles, the building will have exposed glulam beams and timber joists. Other key materials include a steel structure and brick veneer.
Leong says the chosen building materials reference the heritage listed building that’s left over from the site’s primary school days.
He says although the project hasn’t gone the “full way” on materials, it’s tried to limit the use of harmful materials where possible, which is permissible with the Petal certification.
The use of materials like timber will also help keep the building’s embodied carbon profile down.
Water and more
The project also includes a 150,000 litre rain water tank beneath the car park for flushing toilets and irrigating the centre’s gardens
The site will also have two electric car charging stations.
The council is aiming to complete construction in December 2021 and open early 2022.