Setting a new national benchmark in student accommodation facilities, the Lena Karmel Lodge within the Australian National University has taken home the 2013 BPN Multi-density Residential Award.

Architects from nettletontribe approached the project with specific focuses on sustainability, flexibility, technology and interaction. Educating the residents at the lodge on green awareness, and water and energy use reduction, were also identified as priorities.

Home to 558 ANU students, the lodge was created to offer premium housing at affordable rates.

However, the team admitted that creating an improved indoor environmental quality in an energy efficient and cost effective manner, without detracting from comfort living, was a key challenge for the project.

These hurdles was tackled in a variety of ways. For instance, while air conditions were required to be installed in each dwelling, the architects integrated natural ventilation as an effective way of delivering thermal comfort and reducing reliance on the mechanical plant.

With this ‘mixed mode system’, residents can open the manually operable windows when outside conditions are favourable. Energy saving devices and sensors deactivate the air conditioning when the windows are open, or if the rooms are unoccupied.


A second challenge for the team was generating a design that would naturally serve to educate the occupants on sustainable living.

On this end, a dashboard communication system located in common areas displays the lodge’s real-time consumption of electricity, water and gas. A reward scheme for the best performing wing and floor was also put into place, further encouraging residents to minimise their energy and water, and hence cost, wastage.


Communal raised beds planted with Australian natives as well as food crops were another strategy, with the rooftop garden supplementing the diets of the residents with fresh produce, while presenting a consciousness to food production.

On a more basic, built level, the team ensured the correct orientation of the building structure, with the overall floor plate designed narrow to allow natural daylight to penetrate the building easily.

Double glazing with thermal break frames were furthermore utilised to keep the warmth in during the cold Canberra winters, while an appropriate use of thermal mass – concrete precast walls with insulation – reduces the thermal bleed.

Other ESD initiatives include on-site photovoltaic panels, highly efficient zone-controlled lighting in common areas, and rainwater harvesting for toilet flushing. Charging points for electric vehicles and bicycle parking were also provided in the final scheme.

Even though there is no applicable rating system for Student Housing Projects, nettletontribe aspired towards a 5 Star Green Star Multi-Residential rating, and targeted best practice sustainable design on a ‘first principles’ basis.

“The holistic and thorough approach to sustainability, where many initiatives are integrated in the design, is commendable,” praised the BPN Sustainability Awards jury.

“We were particularly impressed with the green roof and edible garden, as well as the sustainability data dashboards that promote user awareness, education and participation.”

“As an on campus location, this building puts forward a sustainable proposition, and acts as an exemplar to the occupants of other buildings.”


Photography by Rachael Houlahan (Juzz Photography), Andrew Campbell and David Puleo (nettletontribe)