20 May 2014 — As the gradual reveal of the 5 Star Green Star Dr Chau Chak Wing building at UTS gives Sydney a look at the dramatic Frank Gehry-designed brick facade, the sustainability aspects of the building and its systems are already proving to be a valuable teaching and learning tool for the staff and students of the Business School, according to Professor Suzanne Benn, professor of sustainable enterprise at UTS.
Professor Benn told The Fifth Estate that the Business School takes every opportunity for students to make case studies of buildings.
“We have a number of accountancy courses, including environmental accounting, which integrates energy efficiency into the curriculum,” Professor Benn said.
“[Some of our] students are tracing the project management in terms of cost/benefit in terms of the energy savings of the building, which is building up their accountancy skills.
“There will be other examples that will come out of the material management of the business school [within the building]. We have honours students looking at a case study of the masterplanning and the stakeholders. Doctoral students are tracing the emergence of the building and its design, and how it has been influenced by the needs and requirements of different stakeholders.
“Concrete data comes from the building to be used in our teaching.”
Building collaboration into business
Once the staff and students have moved into their new base, Professor Benn said the focus will shift to the type of interactions the design and layout encourages, and how this shapes ways of engaging across disciplines.
“The whole focus [of the design] is the metaphor of living organisms. The idea is the students and faculty are linked by specially designed spaces that give more opportunity for collaboration,” Professor Benn said.
“The idea is to build on the potential for teamwork. There are [designated] collaborative learning spaces, where students from different disciplines will work together on different [real world] industry problems.”
Ultimately, she said the metaphor of the building as a living tree translates into a metaphor for the faculty of being a “living business school”.
“[At UTS] we integrate real world problems into learning, and this is something we follow very strongly in the business school,” Professor Benn said.
These real world problems include the issue of improving sustainability, and the school has a sustainability working party that develops ideas around embedding sustainability into the curriculum. Professor Benn said there was an emphasis on the importance of integration, as opposed to separation.
“We are integrating sustainability and ethics as key themes in our curriculum,” she said, explaining that currently the faculty was undertaking an audit of where sustainability is being placed in coursework and assessments. This would show where the knowledge of sustainability is being assessed.
“We are mapping the progress [of sustainability teaching and learning], and where we see there are gaps, where the program [being taught] doesn’t have the means of assessing students’ understanding of sustainability, then we will come up with tasks to assess that.”
Professor Benn is also a member of the UTS Sustainability Committee, a group that has had a strong influence across the current multimillion dollar building program.
UTS sustainability manager Danielle McCartney told The Fifth Estate that UTS will have three 5 Star Green Star buildings reaching completion this year, in addition to the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. The other two projects are The Broadway building, which will house the engineering and IT faculties; and the Thomas Street building, which will be a base for the faculties of science and health.
The Dr Chau Chak Wing building incorporates a range of sustainable features including high-performance glazing, energy efficient building services, water efficient fixtures, a 20,000-litre rainwater tank, sustainably sourced timber, 160 undercover bicycle racks and end-of-trip facilities, and digital signage communicating the building’s sustainability features.
The digital signage is one of the key ways in which the building will deliver active teaching and learning. They show the energy and water use of the building, and are linked to the data flows from the building energy management system and building data including water use. Staff and students can use the screens to tap into the displays of the actual building meters and see the impact of various aspects such as HVAC use, use of lifts or use of lighting.
One of the more distinctive features of the internal design is highly visible stairs, which Ms McCartney said provide an obvious incentive to use them instead of the lifts. In addition to being a means of travelling around the building, she said these also act as “bump space”, where academics can encounter each other and discuss work, share ideas and collaborate informally. This breaks down the interdisciplinary isolation, a feature of more traditional, compartmentalised university faculty buildings.
“UTS was very proactive in selecting sustainability features,” Ms McCartney said.
While the building is designed to be highly energy efficient, there is no NABERS rating for university buildings. Instead, the driver for UTS in seeking efficiency comes down to long-term cost benefits – something accountancy professor Dr Paul Brown examined, winning a Green Gown Award from UTS for his studies into the facilities management side of the building and how to integrate the data from the building systems into accounting coursework. He also examined how behaviour change could influence energy use.
Ms McCartney explained that from the UTS viewpoint, the intent to own and operate the building for the long term – as with the other new buildings – it is “in our interests to make them as sustainable as possible, because we’ll be paying the operating costs for a long time”.
“It wasn’t that hard to achieve [energy efficiency],” she noted.
Weaving green into every course
“UTS academics were consulted about the design [of all the new buildings], and it has filtered down into coursework. All of the buildings have been extensively documented and [that information] can be used for teaching and learning.
“UTS has a sustainability working group which meets every month, which addresses topics like what sustainability means and how to integrate it into [our] coursework. And we have a full time sustainability coordinator whose main role is to engage with staff and students to improve behaviour.”
Adding a market edge
In a market where universities are competing for both domestic and foreign students, the question arises regarding whether having outstanding green buildings creates a competitive advantage.
“It does give us an edge in competing for students. Although they will first and foremost pick a university due to the course, there is benchmarking around sustainability and Green Star which could make a difference [to a prospective student’s choices],” Ms McCartney said.
The Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, named for the Australian-Chinese businessman and philanthropist, will open in mid-2014 at a total development cost of $180 million. Up to 2390 students and staff will study and work in the building at any given time.