Student vegetable gardens at Lena Karmel. Image courtesy of Nettleton Tribe

24 April 2014 — The student accommodation sector is in the middle of a boom, with new operators such as Iglu and Campus Living Villages delivering sound returns to investors like Macquarie Bank and the superannuation funds. The developments have also created an opportunity to create buildings that are a lesson in sustainability for occupants and a valuable testing ground for innovative approaches in architecture.

Nettleton Tribe has undertaken numerous student accommodation projects in New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria over the past eight years.

Architect Trevor Hamilton told The Fifth Estate the aim with campus-based student accommodation has been to bring back the college experience of communal living, which creates different design imperatives compared to standard multi-residential design.

There are three main types of accommodation: self-catering and self-contained studio apartments with access to shared common facilities including catered dining and open-plan socialising spaces; multi-bedroom apartments of up to six bedrooms with common kitchens and living areas; and dormitory style accommodation with single rooms, shared bathrooms and a shared communal kitchen for self-catering. In particular, Hamilton says there has been considerable growth at the 800-bed scale of development, and a strong drive to deliver spaces which will attract post-graduate students.

“There is no one solution for [student accommodation],” Hamilton says.

One of Hamilton’s current design jobs is the adaptive refurbishment of the old Queen Mary Home for Nurses at the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, which is being converted into student accommodation for the University of Sydney.

“We are putting in an education stream of uses, including music centres and training spaces, and a mega kitchen so residents can do their own cooking in a communal space,” Hamilton says.

One of the crucial aspects for student accommodation is security, Hamilton says, due to the high level of concern on the part of parents of young students who may be living a significant distance from home for the first time.

Another Nettletontribe project at Sancta Sophia at the University of Sydney opened this year. This project was designed for graduate students, with self-catered, self-contained studio rooms and a dining room for catered meals, as well as common spaces for relaxation and socialising.

Trevor Hamilton

Diverse drivers for sustainability

“There hasn’t been a Green Star tool for student accommodation,” Hamilton notes, saying there are many drivers for sustainability.

These include planning controls such as the SEPP 65 daylight requirement, which applies to NSW projects such as those Nettleton Tribe is designing for Frasers and the University of Technology Sydney at Central Park.

Drivers such as energy and water efficiency are prioritised partly for sustainability, and partly due to their cost saving benefits for accommodation owners, as most student projects provide energy and water to residents as part of the fixed rental price.

Other measures are those the architect makes a priority, such as maximising the benefits of orientation, looking to the lifecycle costs of materials and maximising indoor air quality to create healthy buildings.

“Low [volatile organic compounds is] one of the key things; we use that as a base design criteria, the same as water recycling and everything else [such as energy-efficiency, natural ventilation, natural light and orientation],” Hamilton says.

“ANU is focused more highly on sustainability than normal. They have completed four [student accommodation] projects over the past three years, and three of those have been designed by Nettletontribe.

“Each year we have matured the sustainability approach, and added features every time.”

Lena Karmel Lodge at the Australian National University. Image courtesy of Nettleton Tribe.

Buildings that teach sustainable living

The flagship ANU project in terms of sustainability is Lena Karmel, a 542-bed UniLodge development comprising both self-contained studio rooms and multiple bedroom apartments that opened in 2012. In this project, Hamilton says, the goal was to design a building that is a teaching tool for sustainability. The project won a 2013 BPN sustainability award for multi-density residential and was 2013 winner of the ACT Sustainable Cities award for sustainable buildings.

“[At Lena Karmel] we really started applying the monitoring [of energy and water]. The building self-monitors, including the solar energy system, energy use, water use and the lift,” Hamilton says.

“ANU promoted the initiative. They said, ‘We want our buildings to teach people.’ They have power competitions among the students to see who can use the least power per floor.”

Students can access visual display panels that show real-time energy use, solar generation levels, carbon emissions avoided, water use and other aspects of building systems. This creates a feedback loop where students can see the results of their choices, and compare their performance with others in the building.

A display panel at Lena Karmel. Image courtesy of Nettleton Tribe.

Other sustainability aspects of Lena Karmel include a vast glazed atrium for natural light and passive solar heating in winter, motion detectors on all lighting, natural ventilation throughout, and two roof gardens including one section of native forest landscaping which mirrors the facing bush of Black Mountain and a productive vegetable and herb garden for student use. The gardens are irrigated with recycled water.

One of the added amenities designed as part of the project was a common area open to the broader ANU campus, a public space that ANU had lacked despite having 3000 students in on-campus accommodation.

The Commons includes three cafes, meeting rooms, a gym, function rooms, space for community functions, a food co-op, a dance theatre company, and an arts creativity group, in addition to retail activity, a cinema complex and the main bus interchange for the university.

Deakin goes for the energy neutral goal

At Deakin University’s Warrnambool and Waurn Ponds campuses, Nettletontribe’s accommodation designs reflected what Hamilton describes as “highly aspirational” sustainability goals on the part of the university.

“Deakin wanted [the accommodation] to be energy neutral, which was a learning process for us and for them,” Hamilton says.

Both projects have substantial solar installations, and maximised the benefits of design, orientation and the use of natural ventilation to make airconditioning unnecessary. The Waurn Ponds project features energy-efficient hydronic heating for the cold Geelong winter nights.

Hamilton notes that resident health tends to be better in a fresh air environment rather than an airconditioned one.

A key aspect of the genre is the need to balance aesthetics with durability. Hamilton says that residents respond well to a high level of style in interiors, finishes and architecture.

“Things have to be built tough… [but] people take pride in what you give them,” he says.

“It’s all about education. In terms of lifecycles, there are a lot of costings [of materials] based around when they will need to be renewed.

“The great thing about [designing student accommodation] is it is a journey. And better outcomes generate [increasingly] better designs.”

Campus Living Villages aims for sustainable returns

A global developer and operator of on-campus student accommodation, Campus Living Villages has delivered some highly sustainable projects, including the 1021-bed UNSW Village designed by Architectus, which opened in January 2010.

Sustainability initiatives in the $127 million project include grey water recycling, the use of precast concrete for thermal performance, use of natural light, natural cross-ventilation to bedrooms and living areas and low energy fixtures.

In addition to the accommodation component, the village incorporates a cafe, convenience store, theatre, study spaces, three-level student lounge, outdoor courtyards, and UNSW Village also preserved historic elements including UNSW’s Old Tote Theatre, the Whitehouse building and large, mature fig trees that run through the site.

Awards received by the project included Randwick City Council Urban Design Award for Sustainability; Urban Development Institute of Australia Award for Sustainable Development; and an Excellence in Housing Award from the Master Builders Association of NSW.

CLV’s $35 million University of Canberra student living project was designed by a graduate of the University, Peter May of May & Russell Architects. The 505-bed development achieved a five-star BASIX rating through measures including the use of an in-slab hydronic heating system, double glazing, high levels of insulation and good solar access. The buildings also incorporate rainwater harvesting, grey water treatment of laundry waste water and a wildlife corridor for native animals on campus.

As at March 2014, CLV owns, manages or is developing over 41,000 beds for around 61 institutions in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Australian portfolio comprises 22 per cent of the firm’s global assets, and is valued at approximately $1.3 billion. In total CLV is currently managing over 9000 student beds across 10 owned properties and three managed properties.

The investment basis of CLV is the Campus Living Villages Fund, which is managed by the responsible entity Campus Living Funds Management Limited, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Transfield Holdings Group. Investors in the CLV Fund currently comprise large institutional investors and superannuation funds.

Monash gets the Green Stars

Monash University’s new Briggs and Jackomos student residences at Clayton Campus were the first student accommodation buildings in Australia to receive a 5 Star Green Star Design rating (under the Green Star Multi Residential V1 tool) and are expected to be the first to receive a 5 Star Green Star As-Built rating by the Green Building Council of Australia.

The halls are named after Aunty Gerry Briggs, who was instrumental in establishing the Aboriginal Health Service, Legal Service and many other community organisations; and Merle Jackomos AOM, who helped found the National Aboriginal and Islander Women’s Council with Aunty Gerry.

The 600-bedroom student residences designed by BVW Architects comprise fully-contained studio apartments with kitchen facilities, ensuite bathrooms and living spaces with dining tables, wardrobes and VoIP with wi-fi coverage. Students also have access to study areas, a main common room, a music room, a games room, a communal laundry, bike storage areas, individual mailboxes and central lifts.

The Briggs and Jackomos Halls feature one of the largest residential solar installations in Australia, with a 153-kilowatt solar array; 150,000 litres of recycled water storage; grey water treatment of showers and hand basins for toilet flushing; and productive garden beds planted with fruit trees and herbs. Modular and prefabricated construction techniques were used as far as possible by contractor, Broad Constructions, to minimise the project’s environmental impact. A conscious choice was also made to prioritise sourcing highly sustainable materials.

The development is located next to the Jock Marshall Reserve, an environmentally important area which is managed by the University’s Biological Sciences team. To ensure the project was in keeping with the location it occupies a stringent Environmental Plan was put in place, which dealt with storm water run-off for the site and included a permanent bio-filtration trench. ??

Iglu – the off-campus option

Iglu is a new player in the student accommodation market, with a portfolio valued at $150 million in January 2014 comprising two currently tenanted off-campus projects in Sydney and approval to construct a 400-plus bed project in Brisbane slated for opening in 2016.

A joint venture between GIC and Macquarie Capital acquired the majority interest in the company in January 2014, spurred by the reliable returns the sector has been generating.

The websites for Iglu central in the Sydney CBD and Iglu Chatswood both claim the projects incorporate sustainable design and construction. However, when The Fifth Estate called Iglu to obtain specific details of sustainability initiatives, they chose not to respond to inquiries.

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  1. We would like to add our congratulations to Urbanest Australia, who has developed Australia’s first Green Star Custom rating tool for student accommodation with the GBCA. The Urbanest Green Star Custom Tool is able to rate their entire portfolio across Australia, and has already been implemented in a number of sites across Sydney.

    Suzanna Remmerswaal
    Sustainability Engineer
    Northrop Consulting Engineers

  2. While it’s true that there is no specific Green Star rating tool for student accommodation, the Monash University Briggs Hall & Jackomos Hall project is an excellent case study of how Green Star can help achieve great results – including a 45% reduction in energy consumption when compared with business-as-usual. The Briggs Hall and Jackamos Hall project used the Green Star – Multi Unit Residential rating tool and a number of other universities have registered student accommodation projects, administration buildings and education facilities to achieve Green Star ratings; we expect to see more do so in the years to come.

    Robin Mellon, Chief Operating Officer
    Green Building Council of Australia