The new $32 million University of Queensland ‘Living Building’ has been recognised with a Six Star Green Star – Education Design v1 rating from the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).

Designed by Hassell Architects, the Global Change Institute (GCI) building spans 3,865sqm and is footed on 33 precast floor beams made from Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC), a Wagners brand name for their commercial form of geopolymer concrete.

Mark Roehrs, design team leader from Hassell, says the building pushed sustainability boundaries by combining innovative technologies with simple design techniques. Great examples of this includesthe net zero-energy operation of the building using renewable solar energy collected onsite ,and a world-first structural use of low-carbon concrete.

Comprising sand, aggregate and a binder that contains ground granulated blast furnace slag and fly ash, waste products from steel production and coal fired power generation, the geopolymer concrete used contains no normal Portland cement. This allows it to have very low CO2 emissions as compared to normal Portland cement-based concrete.

Image: Hassell

^The building's airflow is directed to the central atrium where heat is expended through a thermal chimney. Image: Hassel

The application of the geopolymer concrete in the GCI was initiated by Hassell, Wagners and Bligh Tanner, and won top honours at the 2013 BPN Sustainability Awards.

“As a live research site, the building’s systems and operational capability are being constantly monitored and adjusted to ensure maximum comfort for the space’s occupants,” explains Roehrs.

“What we have learned from the design, construction and operation of this building is informing future sustainability projects.”

GCI Director Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg also highlighted the buildings natural ventilation, on-site solar panels and rainwater storage to service amenities as contributing to its net zero-energy carbon-neutral status.

“Many of the building’s features are unique but, equally, there are attributes that could be easily implemented into any new structure,” he says.

“The use of rainwater in the building is a practical example of how we are having a positive impact on the environment and moving from a focus on consumption to contribution.”

Image: Hassell

^The retractable roofing system adjusts to sun position and natural lighting needs. Image: Hassell.

Along with the geopolymer concrete beams, the building’s zero carbon footprint can be attributed to Hassell’s environmentally conscious material selection. 

The building recruits an operable sun shading system that tracks the sun’s movement and adjusts the building’s glass louvres to encourage efficient natural ventilation that is dependent on the time of day.

The air flow encouraged by the tracking louvres then runs through the building’s working spaces and is directed to the central atrium, which discharges all warm air through its thermal chimney.

^The Global Change Institute (GCI) building spans 3,865sqm. Image: Hassell

The project’s hydronic cooling system is also advanced - the entire building is cooled with chilled rainwater that is flushed through the exposed sculptural precast floor panels.

This water comes from the 60,000 litre rain storage tank that services the hydronic cooling system, as well as the kitchen and shower.

This is the second accolade for the GCI building in the last month, after it was ranked 34th in a list of the world’s 50 most impressive environmentally friendly university buildings.

The 2014 BPN Sustainability Awards are now open for submissions. To enter, click HERE.