Melbourne Polytechnic, Epping campus, Victoria, Australia

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The Green Skills Centre of Excellence, formerly the NMIT Northern Metropolitan Institute of TAFE, transforms an unexciting campus into a unique learning environment that showcases Australian excellence in sustainable design.

Not only was this building designed, built and ready for students in just 14 months, it was also one of the first to be designed to meet a 5-star rating in the Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green star sustainability rating system.

The challenge was creating a highly efficient building from a bare site in an uninspiring context. It had to accommodate a mix of uses, including noisy and messy building trade activity, along with formal learning spaces, each with a welcoming and comfortable feel. It also had to comply with the 5-star requirements set by the new GBCA rating scheme, as the project became part of a government package designed to stimulate the local economy.

But we didn’t want an industrial factory, despite this fitting the brief. Instead, we examined the way the building would be used and how it would appear, and appointed a builder to start before the design and documentation was completed to meet the tight 14-month time frame.

Our design response was to create more than just a tall, double-storey building; rather, a sustainability case study in practice. This is a living and breathing model for students to play with, learn from and experience by hand emerging technologies for new education programs on manufacturing, construction, installation, repair and maintenance.

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As a result, this facility practises what it preaches. It contributes to the environment as well as to students’ education, applying principles of efficient energy and resource management that it produces itself.

We took the idea of transforming the public side into an expression of movement, so that the building looks dynamic and ever changing from wherever it is viewed. We turned the building backwards and oriented the main internal activity spaces to face inwards. This protects the residents’ privacy as the site is next to a residential zone and relatively tall compared to the adjacent houses. We also designed a feature façade that is self shading and angled back so that the sun never directly falls on it.

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Internally, the building comprises a large double volume space for the main trade activities, with support rooms including classrooms, offices, computer laboratories and supporting laboratories around it on three sides over two levels. On the lower level, the support rooms open directly onto the main activity space, while those above open onto a walkway that overlooks the main activity space.

  • Key design initiatives integrated within the 3000sq m building include: Sun harnessing: Solar technologies to minimise power use, and solar hot water
  • Geothermal heating and cooling: Ground source heat pump for heating and cooling
  • Fully constructed black and greywater system: Waste management and recycling systems
  • Rain harvesting: Used for toilet flushing and other non-potable uses, and;
  • Green material selection: FSC certified sustainable timbers, recycled content materials and minimised VOCs to optimise indoor, environmental quality.

Extra details include large tilt up doors that open the main activity space to the outdoors, promoting outside learning, plus floor trenches for the reticulation of services. There are viewing windows included in the plumbing stacks, walls and plant rooms for building users to see how it was designed and achieved its sustainable rating.

Today, the Green Skills Centre is a bold, 5-star shed. It has put the Epping campus on the map, and its flexible design will adapt and evolve with emerging technologies and applications. Delivered in record time, we are proud to help contribute to the next generation on sustainable and green technology.

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