RMIT Design Hub
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|RMIT Building 100|
|Type||Education / Institutional|
|Address||Corner Swanston and Victoria Streets|
|Town or city||Melbourne, Victoria|
|Coordinates||37.806470 S 144.962722 E|
|Floor area||13,000 sqm|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Sean Godsell Architects|
|Architecture firm||Peddle Thorp|
Completed in May 2012 the Design Hub was designed by Sean Godsell Architects in association with Peddle Thorp Architects. It is an icon of design innovation heralding a new era of integrating technology with design. The Design Hub is located on the historic Carlton & United Breweries site. The building featured prominently in the science fiction film Predestination.
One of the unusual features of the facade of the Design Hub is that it has the capability of collecting solar energy throughout most of the day as the surface is covered in operable disks. Although, as of 2013, there are no solar panels installed, it has the capability to accommodate this technology in the near future with its facade system. To achieve harvesting energy at an optimum level, ganged disks are fitted with an actuator which will allows the disks to be exposed to the sun as much as possible. With the current material of sandblasted glass, the disks operate as a 'second skin' controlling solar gain and access. An internal computer controls this facade by adjusting each cell with rotational motors, according to Melbourne’s daily weather. Additional self-sustaining features include the underground water tank, which stores grey water for re-use including flushing toilets, mechanical cooling requirements, and irrigation.
The Design Hub consists of two buildings with a central forecourt in between; One building is for research and archives and the other for exhibitions and working spaces. However, the buildings are connected at basement level to allow delivery, movement and storage of items. The planning of both buildings is organised in a linear manner around closed service rooms and cores. The design sought simple clean continuous space upon entering the building leading to curiosity and exploration to other spaces. The spaces are fairly large and open due to the choice of materials. The circulation of the building is surrounded by long corridors which can also be transformed into gallery spaces where works can be hung on the walls. High ceilings, narrow corridors and control of light within the space gives a very dramatic atmosphere into the interior. Part of the open plan design is the arrangement of furniture which can be moved around depending on the usage of space. Another key feature of the building is flexibility of spaces. The Research groups will be able to locate their work out of the warehouse rooms.
Key influences and design approach
The Design hub engages with contrasting eras, with the classic history of Shrine of remembrance in Street Kilda road which marks the other end of Melbourne public axis as well as its neighbouring buildings. The vantage point from the roof of the Design Hub provides a clear view of Swanston Street, North of Latrobe Street as well as the Shrine which gives all the more reason for its occupants to go the roof. Minimalism is the main design factor for the exterior facade, which consist of circular cells achieving a dynamic design. Inspiration for the lucid discs with its steel cylindrical structure came from the beer business that once ran on the CUB Brewery site. The intent for the facade however, is to encourage further use and research into solar energy. It is because of this that each solar panel can be replaced with innovated panels as the technology continues to develop. Research groups can now use this building to experiment and develop the technology, using its northern facade, dedicated to this research. The interior of the hub is designed to encourage the various research groups to ‘cross pollinate’ ideas with each other, regardless of the relevance between each other’s fields of practice. This therefore provides a learning environment which should create innovation in design for years to come. Influences which addressed the choice in materials of the interior, include RMIT being an industrial college, which is reflected in the use of galvanised steel industrial walkway grating as a cladding material on the walls, creating an industrial atmosphere.
The purpose of the Design Hub is to provide accommodation in one building for a diverse range of design research and post graduate education. RMIT is a world leader in design research however post graduates were previously dissipated across various campuses and facilities. The Hub provides a collegial research base where postgraduates in fields such as fabric and fashion design will work alongside those involved in architecture, aeronautical engineering, industrial design,landscape architecture, urban design and so on. Research groups have the ability to locate and fine tune their accommodation within‘warehouses’ - open plan spaces where research teams can set up and tailor their work environment to suit their particular needs. Teams may stay for anywhere from six months to three years depending on the nature of and funding limits to their research and education programs. Research may include the need for workshops to make physical models to be located alongside computer studios,three-dimensional printing, virtual reality modelling and so on. Given the time frames associated with research projects all the warehouses require a high level of adaptability and flexibility. In that sense these spaces are designed to accommodate the organic nature of research - ever evolving, adapting,changing and growing. The plan of the Hub acknowledges the desire for incidental cross pollination where researchers from one field encounter those from completely unrelated other fields as part of their day to day use of the building. An exhibition space and design archive provide a public interface with both industry and research outcomes. These spaces combined with a variety of lecture, seminar and multipurpose rooms facilitate high level exchanges in a number of forums.
Environmentally sustainable design
The Design Hub is a Greenstar Certified Project achieving a 5 star Greenstar – Education Design v.1 rating from the green building council of Australia.
The Hub has a number of ESD features and incorporates strategies of water, waste and recycling management that contribute to its Greenstar rating. The outer skin of the Hub incorporates automated sunshading. The shade cells have been designed so that they can be easily replaced with solar cells as research into solar energy results in improved technology and the infrastructure for that evolution has been built into the façade and building management systems. This meets RMIT’s request for future proofing the ESD performance of the building while at the same time enabling the university’s solar research department to continue aspects of its research in situ - the entire building façade, in other words, has the capacity to be upgraded as solar technology evolves and may one day generate enough electricity to run the whole building. Perimeter air intakes incorporated into the double glazed inner skin provide fresh air to the working environment which lowers energy consumption and provides a more desirable thermal comfort alternative to a wholly conditioned work environment. Lighting is sensor controlled by the BMS to reduce the need for artificial lighting when not required.
Alan Davies, writing for The Urbanist, noted that many of the claims made for the building were unsubstantiated, particularly in relation to the capacity for the façade ‘cells’ to track the sun, as only a limited number can rotate, and these only on one axis. Davies considered that portraying the ‘capacity’ to fit the cells with PV collectors as a virtue to be a ‘stretch’, and questioned the effectiveness of the façade either in terms of its role in façade shading, or any possible future role in generating power for the building.
Criticisms have been levelled at the insular character of the building, which was considered antithetical to the role of a design education and research organization to invite public access and to make an appropriate response to activation of its urban setting.
The Herald Sun noted problems with the façade in late 2014, with glass disks falling from the building, necessitating protection of the footpath area below the building, while the causes of the façade failure were investigated.
In February 2016, RMIT announced 'its award winning building in Melbourne’s CBD, the Design Hub, is to “go solar”. RMIT will begin a new phase for the Design Hub with a project to incorporate the latest breakthroughs in solar technologies into its iconic façade. The University will replace all 16,000 glass discs to “deliver on the building’s original proposition for a ‘smart skin’ façade”. It says:
'Technology has now caught up with the original vision for the Design Hub and we are excited to begin this next phase of the life of this landmark building…This latest initiative will enhance the building’s already strong ESD credentials as well as taking advantage of breakthrough innovations in Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)'.
Alan Davies observed that there was '..more than a little spin in the University's announcement. The real reason it’s replacing all those discs is discreetly acknowledged at the end of para four of RMIT’s media release, where it’s noted the revamp will also “address the issue of a small number of discs breaking since the building’s completion”.'
Davies expressed skepticism that the building facade could beneficially or cost effectively retrofitted to achieve the ESD outcomes claimed in the RMIT's press release. Davies noted:
I’m sceptical because the University doesn’t say how many of the 16,000 replacement discs will be solar collecters. Since it says the work will be done by next February it must know, but it’s keeping it vague.
All it’s committing to is: “sections of the façade will incorporate Building Integrated Photovoltaics”. It doesn’t say how much power they’ll generate or what “breakthrough innovations” they’ll supposedly incorporate.
The fact that the solar discs will also “act as an applied learning and teaching showcase and a research test bed, advancing practical solar research”, makes me wonder if RMIT is co-opting a modest solar research program into the task of marketing/hyping the Design Hub.
And that in turn raises the question of whether or not both purposes are compromised; disks that can’t be inclined to catch the sun might not make the most suitable test bed for research (or teaching). 
- Victorian Architecture Medal - Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter Awards
- William Wardell Award for Public Architecture (New) - Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter Awards
- COLORBOND Award for Steel Architecture - Australian Institute of Architects Victorian Chapter Awards
- The Chicago Athenaeum Green GOOD DESIGN Award USA
- 2013 International Architecture Award, the Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies
- Architizer A+ Award Jury Winner Institutional: Higher Education Institutions & Research Facilities category USA
- Award of Merit AZ Awards Architecture Commercial and Institutional Buildings Over 100 sqm Canada
- Honorable Mention International Prize for Sustainable Architecture, International Awards, University of Ferrara Italy
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