The robust feat of making the world a better place is a responsibility that often rests heavy on the collective shoulders of architects and designers. Placing human needs, desires and aspirations at the heart of their meaningful work, alongside the urgent consideration for the livelihood of the planet, future-forward architecture and design professionals lead the efforts to create sustainable environments that celebrate the human condition in a manner that’s sympathetic to our natural environment. Similarly, in the civic space, educational facilities often spearhead the idea of progress and innovation, while sharing the same aspiration - precisely what makes those particular edifices so exciting where innovation, wellness and environmental considerations are concerned.
On our latest podcast, we talk to Luke Johnson, Principal at Architectus, about the happy meeting of the two.
Amongst the wide portfolio of commercial workplace, arts and culture, transport and interior architectural projects, Architectus has got an impressive selection of education facilities under their belt - UNSW’s Health Translation Hub being one of the latest ones. “The education sector is very conscious of its impacts upon society and environment so it is great to be once again working with university clients on realising their far-reaching visions,” Luke says.
He points out that - from a global point of view - the Australian architecture industry is considered a world-leader in designing education facilities. But we have to keep up. “Teaching and learning pedagogies are in a constant state of necessary evolution so, along with changes brought on by technological progress and outlier events such as pandemics, it is vital that designers are at the leading edge of thought leadership,” Luke explains. “At Architectus we’re constantly monitoring, discussing and forecasting the influences that enable us to shape the spaces and places that will facilitate the very best educational outcomes,” he adds. And it shows.
Archictus’ recent project, Ainsworth Building, has been recognised in the Education category, in the recent Sustainability Awards. The purpose-built home of Macquarie University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is an exceptional example of a highly integrated approach to sustainability in design.
“Despite being very obviously expressive of its carbon-capturing mass timber structure I think that the jury also recognised that it has great, inherent resilience with a generous floor-to-floor height that enables much flexibility and potential adaptability with its future programming,” he adds. “In fact the upper-most level of the building was constructed without a defined accommodation brief so that the specific use of that level could be later defined according to the Faculty’s future needs.”
Luke highlights the operational sustainability that’s been designed into the building’s mechanical systems and operable facade elements. “They will deliver very pleasant internal environmental conditions and have modest operating costs,” he adds.
“One other element that contributes greatly to sustainability is building lifespan,” he points out. “If a building, like the Ainsworth Building, can be delivered with inherent functionality and beauty then it is much more likely to have an enduring worth to its client. This means that the client can defer future replacement costs on both their capital expenditure and on the natural environment. ‘Build well and build less often’ is perhaps the most sustainable approach.”
Of course, alongside the functional qualities of the building - “absolutely critical to its performance and effectiveness,” points out Luke - it is the architectural qualities that make this project stand out. Ainsworth boasts a considered biophilic palette - defined by a pronounced incorporation of timber throughout internal structures - that establishes a tangible dialogue with nature, evoking a sense of wellness amongst the occupants.
Enveloped in a high-performance glass skin, the building reveals its exquisite timber structural skeleton to the passers-by, while allowing plenty of natural light in. “Daylight, fresh air, transparency, and natural tactility are all experiential qualities that impact on sustainability as well as affect our collective well-being,” Luke says. “The current cohort of medical students in this building will before long be the clinical practitioners performing live-saving and life-improving procedures and services. That this building makes them feel well is a good thing.”
Through this project Architectus once again proves, yet again, that we can design and build more sustainably. Something, he urges, we have to do more of in the commercial sector, too. “We can and must design and build more sustainably. This necessity to do so is now upon us. Public and private sector commitments to carbon neutrality are making this increasingly mandatory. Consciousness demands it,” Luke concludes decidedly.