The Student Dorms in Australia’s Largest Passive House Building Are Surprisingly Swank
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The Student Dorms in Australia’s Largest Passive House Building Are Surprisingly Swank

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By Lauren Jones / Photos by Peter Clarke
Community-focused and constructed with cross-laminated timber, Gillies Hall at Monash University perfectly marries student life with sustainability.

Located just outside Melbourne, Monash University’s Peninsula Campus is a widely respected research facility specializing in early childhood education, physiotherapy, and nursing, and is home to 4,000 students during the school year. The grounds feature brick buildings, eucalyptus trees with rusty red blossoms, and Gillies Hall, a nearly 70,000-square-foot student residence that happens to be the largest Passive House certified building in the Southern Hemisphere. 

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) benches, an exposed CLT ceiling, and concrete softened with a hint of olive green make the common spaces feel inviting. 

"We started working with Monash in 2012 and completed Turner Hall, a student residence, which met the Australian green standards," says architect Simon Topliss of Jackson Clements Burrows. "We won this project in May of 2017, and Monash was interested in exploring Passive House certification (PCH), a rigorous standard for energy efficiency, and cross-laminated timber (CLT), which required a large learning curve because only three or four projects of this scale in Australia had ever used that material before." 

Gillies Hall was completed in a mere 19 months in consultation with Pablo Sepulveda of multinational engineering firm AECOM and David Ritter of environmental design consultancy Atelier Ten.

The goal was to have the new building open by February of 2019, an ambitious timeline. The team got to work on creating a structure that would not only meet the needs of Monash students, but also be supremely eco-friendly. 

"PCH is very new to Australia," Topliss says. "There were some small residential buildings in Melbourne, but nothing yet of this size. The standards changed the way we thought from the very beginning."

Monash has a Net Zero Initiative, and Gillies Hall follows suit with continual outer shading thanks to its folded steel structure; double-glazed, thermally broken windows; fully taped CLT facade panels; and heat recovery mechanical ventilation to every room.

The team looked to European PCH buildings for guidance and adapted their architectural plans for Australia’s much warmer climate. The challenge was going to be keeping the building temperature at a maximum of 77 degrees, the highest temperature the Passive House standards would allow. Unlike in Northern Europe, hot, tropical Australian summers mean a handful of days over the 100-degree mark. The solution for Gillies Hall? Lots of shading. 

Students come home to 150 single-occupancy rooms, as well as support staff residences on every floor.

To keep internal temperatures inside the PCH standards, the facade of Gillies Hall has a folded sunscreen of bright orange steel that creates external shading.

"We then looked at CLT as a powerful way to deal with the low thermal transmission and an easy pathway to a good airtight envelope," says Topliss. 

The study areas are comfortable thanks to the PCH internal temperature standards and cross-ventilation.

In addition to being a low-carbon material, CLT, which was developed in Europe in the 1990s, is cost-effective and a great insulator. 

As JCB had already worked with Monash on Turner Hall, they were well aware of the community layout that the university prefers to use in their student accommodations. 

Students often cook large, family-style meals multiple times a week in the common kitchen, which features an an energy-efficient refrigerator from Austria. 

"They like to have small communities of 25 students with student reps as the first point of contact for their residents," Topliss says. "We understood with Gillies Hall that we would break up the building into five or six groups that would help develop the floor wings, study areas, and communal spaces." 

Instead of the traditional floor wing structure with a double-loaded corridor, each of the studio apartments wraps around a central space, which allows for cross-ventilation and a greater sense of community. There is a central kitchen with an adjacent study, and the staircase is partially glass so "when you are walking upstairs, everyone can see each other, and there’s always a chance to see your friends. If you’re having a bad day, there will always be support for the other students," says Topliss. 

Students can play ping pong, video games, or even host movie nights in the ground-floor game room.

"We wanted authenticity in the materials, so we used exposed CLT for a warm, home-y feel, and steel and CLT cutouts for the bench seats," he says. 

The ground floor, which houses the main common spaces, features a large kitchen for family-style meals, a game room with a ping pong table, and even a music rehearsal room. 

"It’s really about the student life and community," he says. "We met with the students recently, and they love it. It’s so great when you design something and that’s how the spaces are actually used."

Related Reading:

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Our Dorm Definitely Did Not Look Like This   

The City of Lisbon Inspired the Design of This Surprisingly Luxurious Student Residence

Project Credits:

Architect: Jackson Clements Burrows Architects / @jcbarchitects

Builder: Multiplex Australia

Structural Engineer: AECOM

Civil Engineer: AECOM

Landscape Design: GLAS Urban

Lighting Design: Light Project

Interior Design: as architect

Sound Engineer: AECOM Acoustics

Cabinetry Design: as architect

Building Services & ESD: AECOM

Passive House Certification: Grun Consulting

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