Courtyard and north elevation of the SBRC at the University of Wollongong

It has been far too long since I last wrote a post, so it’s wonderful to be able to write about the amazing and inspiring day I’ve had.

I arrived in Sydney yesterday and made my way to Wollongong this morning for a tour of the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Building Research Centre (SBARC) and to attend the inaugural AGM of the Living Futures Institute of Australia. The SBRC was the first building in Australia to be registered for full certification under the Living Building Challenge (it is also six star Greenstar rated building). While the building has been commissioned and is now occupied, it is yet to receive official “living building” status” (a requirement of the LBC standard is to have a minimum of 12 months data showing the performance of the building, and that it meets the performance objectives of the seven petals and 20 imperatives of the standard). We were fortunate enough to partake in a tour of the building and facilities hosted by Lance Jeffrey, the UOW project manager who was involved in the project during its design and construction. Some of the impressive, ambitious and also simple initiatives and design principles integrated into the project include:

  • H-shaped, “letter” building footprint to maximize solar passive orientation and natural ventilation opportunities
  • Hydronic floor heating and cooling to provide baseline thermal comfort, supplemented by a HVAC system connected to a ground source heat pump
  • Recycled timber and salvaged bricks used throughout, along with exposed concrete floors for thermal mass
  • Zero VOC finishes, furniture and fixtures throughout the interiors, part of a major effort to eliminate red-list chemicals from the building
  • Old railway sleepers used as structural steel members
  • Temperature sensor controlled windows that also have a manual override to allow building occupants to control their thermal environment
  • Exposed cable trays and HVAC ductwork to minimise usage of materials (also lends a fabulous aesthetic to the building interior)
  • No PVC used throughout the building (a red list chemical), including for all the data and electrical cable sheathing (even the conduits are made from HFT plastic)
  • Spray-on thermal and acoustic insulation to ceilings made from recycled newspaper
  • A solar wall to to help provide low-energy heating to the building interior, that will also be monitored as part of the SBRC’s research programme

It was truly inspiring to see just what is possible when clients and project teams strive to achieve a building with a net positive environment impact, not just aim to do “less bad”. Footnote: For the travel conscious, I offset the 1.72 tonnes of carbon associated with my return flight between Sydney and Perth with Climate Friendly, who have purchased renewable energy from the Tamil Nadu 45 Turbine Wind Project on my behalf. Thanks to Haris Moraitis from BSE for the lift, and for the wonderful company of Nicole Thornton from ISF and Genevieve Boyle and McLachan Lister on the train back to Sydney.

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