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A green living learning design school

Volume 10 Number 12 December 8 2014 - January 11 2015


Sustainability expert Dr Dominique Hes profiles the University of Melbourne’s newest and greenest building.

The new Melbourne School of Design is the University’s first 6-Star Green Star building, and is already inspiring students and industry through this achievement and the demonstrated fact that the building was completed in advance of its contract. This new academic centre for the built environments will continue to inspire as it wears its heart on its sleeve, making its performance transparent and open to research. 

Buildings, like people, require a period of time to get to know one another, to get comfortable and predictable; it is expected this will also be the case with the new Melbourne School of Design. It is purposely designed to connect to its users, from the information provision to the design of the circulation to allow people to enjoy the light, timber, and atmosphere of the building. There are many informal spaces where students can sit, study, read, contemplate and converse. With the levels of monitoring (energy, water, CO2, humidity, temperature and flux), reporting and sensors in the building our adaptation to each other should be effectively facilitated. 

Given this information, we will be able to teach through and with the building, developing a ‘green’ knowing eye. A ‘knowing eye,’ is a visual literacy that opens eyes and minds to the ideas and principles embedded in and that govern the physical world, and that constitute order in the universe. Architecture students quickly develop an aesthetic and spatial knowing eye, but seldomly a green one; one that allows them to look at a building and say: Why is there a shading system in the south? Why does it feel uncomfortable here? Why is this building using so much energy, or conversely, I understand why this window makes people more productive, heal quicker, and feel happier. Developing a ‘green knowing eye’ helps us go beyond ‘seeing’ to looking, understanding and interacting. 

The new Melbourne School of Design will foster this aspect of the visual literacy through the integration and provision of information on the green features of the building such as: a 750,000 litre water tank for use in chillers, toilets, irrigation and precinct use; natural ventilation; LED lighting; and high levels of natural light, views and displacement ventilation. This is combined with the ability to see these features through exposed services and integrated sensors to allow stakeholders and students to witness how they perform.

All this means that we are able to look in detail at four different spaces – teaching, theatre, meeting and exhibition – and all four façades, enabling us to understand what is coming in through the walls, affecting the fresh air, temperature and humidity. We will be able to say ‘This space feels great because…’ And, ‘look at how this architectural detail has helped with…’ And conversely, ‘Here we have this issue and this is why’. In essence, the building is revealed as though under its skin, to see how it has been put together and how it operates. 

This journey started much earlier, as the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning worked with the old building to understand what worked well and what did not, carrying out a preliminary occupant satisfaction, Green Star, NABERS and microclimate study. We thought consciously and actively about how we used spaces and how we would like to use spaces. This journey will continue as we use the feedback of the integrated systems to inform future architecture. An architecture that will not only be visually inspirational, but will also act more like living systems; living systems that provide feedback and require constant interaction. The initiatives integrated with our buildings will help this feedback and contribute to really start a conversation about what a building would look like that was a living system, like a tree, learning and teaching, using and contributing, sheltering and producing fruit. 

“As buildings become more responsive to their users, more natural and ecological, they will in turn require more interaction from the user. Feedback, like in nature, will be the key to living buildings so that users’ experiences in the building affect its ongoing operation. How architecture responds to this is our exciting research opportunity.”

Dominique Hes is Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Architecture in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.


The new Melbourne School of Design (MSD) building will officially open its doors to the public on Friday 12 December from 2pm to 8pm in an open house style event. There will be opportunities to explore the building, as well as exhibitions, music and performances.