Cox Rayner Architects have earned a special commendation from the 2014 Sustainability Awards jury, who were particularly impressed with the practice’s Sir Samuel Griffith Centre at Griffith University, Queensland.

Initially in the running for the Public Building & Urban Design prize, which went to the University of Queensland Global Change Institute by HASSELL, Sir Samuel Griffith Centre boasts many exceptional ESD initiatives that the judges believe are worth applauding.

“The Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is the first building worldwide to convert solar energy into hydrogen – a work first technology developed by researchers within the University that may have major impacts on providing stability of energy supply to remote communities. This technology is a major breakthrough as it enables the energy to be stored for long periods overcoming solar energy’s debilitating shortcoming,” explains the jury on their choice.

“The Centre integrates the architecture along with other highly visible sustainability measures, such as the tensegrity-supported glazed rainshield frontage that naturally ventilates along the length and height of the building.

“But it is the research, collaboration and social engagement mandate for the building that takes sustainability to the next level, actively building a building program around a desire for further exemplary research in this area and making it an extremely close call when deciding an award in this category.”

The innovative technology was initially conceived as a means of energising remote communities anywhere, and converts solar energy into hydrogen (as metal halides), which are then stored in fuel cells and deployed on demand.

Employing it for the project was a huge challenge for the team, who had to incorporate the untried energy technology into a building such that it not only physically worked, but combined with the architecture and design components to create a total sustainability outcome.

Today, the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is a completely self-sustaining, zero carbon teaching and research building without precedent. It has also been found that the integrated solar photovoltaic-hydrogen fuel cell technology with battery and halide storage is able to power adjoining existing buildings.












Key initiatives:

  • Sir Samuel Griffith Centre is Australia’s first zero-emission teaching and research building. It is entirely powered by solar-hydrogen energy via a system that is a ‘pilot’ for enabling remote ‘off-grid’ communities to have access to a permanent self-sustainable energy supply
  • This system can power adjoining existing buildings, and produces distilled water stored in a 20 metre high, 680,000 litre tank that air-conditions the building
  • The 680,000 litre tank is also part of the recycled water system, which treats rainwater to regulatory standards and reticulates this recycled water via pumps
  • The north elevation’s glazing is protected by full length tilted horizontal louvres that both protect the glazing and are further solar photovoltaic panels for energy gain        


  • The south elevation is the most innovative as it is a curved series of glazed ‘rainshields’ that facilitate year-round natural ventilation to the adjoining verandah circulation spine. This spine accommodates the research collaboration zones which are externally visible both through the glazing and up from the street. The rainshield is held out from the verandah edges by a spider (tensegrity) structure that facilitates the vertical visibility and minimises steel material content

  • Building composed 64 per cent of its installed steel product from recycled material, including the reinforcing steel and expressed tensegrity structure
  • ‘Task air’ system which enables each individual to customise their energy needs each day
  • The roof is an extensive canopy that is covered by 1124 solar photovoltaic cells and faces direct north at the ideal angle for solar gain.

Photography by Christopher Frederick Jones

Click here to see all the winners and commendations for 2014. You can also view articles on all the finalists in the Public Building & Urban Design category here.

Check out all 70 finalists in the interactive video below: