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.
"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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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."
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