Set in the Moorooboon wetlands of Victoria, the Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre at Bentleigh Secondary College is designed to educate students about the environment and help them become sustainable citizens through building design.

Constructed predominantly from renewable timber, the building designed by dwp|suters acts as a piece of furniture amongst the forest landscape. It is something to be sat in, on and around while students learn about the environment, indigenous culture and mindfulness meditation.

With a warm, uniform space, the centre has a calming effect on the students who use it. The design reflects the contrasting nature of our inner and outer selves through materiality and form, project architect Nick Cini says.

“The choice of materials to reflect these concepts was a key part of the success of the design. In essence the golden coloured plywood inside the building will maintain its ‘youthful’ appearance whilst the external hardwood cladding will mature and silver with age.”

The clear finished plywood used throughout the internal space was 12mm thick Hoop Pine A Grade plywood from Austral Plywood. Its flexibility enabled dwp|suters to create and construct dynamic curved walls, maintaining a feeling of calm simplicity in the building.

Contrasting with this interior will eventually be the soft textural grey of the external silvertop ash cladding, supplied from Bowens Timber and Hardware, and coated in Quantec Wood Preservative Exterior from Quantum Timber Finishes.

Additionally the internal plywood wall panelling was white-washed with Wattyl Craftsman Pigmented Stain in white, harmonising well with the soft, warm colourings of the Blackbutt flooring also supplied by Bowens Timber and coated in Wattyl Estapol Flooring Water-Based in clear.

“This helped reduce obvious material transitions in favour of creating subtle differences in the internal palette. In addition the light colorings of the timber assisted in the reflection of natural light to reduce the need for artificial light,” Cini says.

“Architecturally the curved nature of the floor plan maximises the potential of curving plywood and secondly adheres to our goal of using timber for all aspects of the construction to communicate to the students the importance of responsible choices in material selection.”

Using Australian Certified timber added to the education of students as it allowed them to see how small environmentally aware choices have potential benefits to the environment.

All internal plywood, external cladding, external decking and internal timber flooring in the building are forestry certified, with a total of 95 per cent of timber used in the project certified as AFS, PEFC or FSC.

Sustainable choices influenced timber and coatings

From the outset, timber was going to be an important aspect for the project. With one of the lowest embodied energies of common building materials, timber provided an important real-world demonstration of carbon sequestration principles, teaching the students about the consequence of material selection and construction.

The use of timber was driven by the ethical position of educating students on how to make these sustainable choices, in particular the choice of timber in construction that can be recycled and reused, Cini says.

“The intention of the building’s timber construction is that if the facility is demolished the majority of the materials and their embodied energy can be reused and recycled in many forms.”

As 85 per cent of the surfaces in the building are timber, another important aspect was the sustainability of the timber treatments and coatings used.

Cini says all the clear timber treatments were water based, except for the external timber treatment (Quantec), which, although not water-based, is made from natural oils. It is a penetrative wood preservative, which lasts up to five times longer than traditional timber oils or clear treatments. As the centre is designed to silver over time, with this coating the external timber will require considerably less maintenance over its lifetime, thus reducing the impact on the environment.