Collaboration, sustainability, and wellbeing are at the heart of University of Melbourne’s new innovation hub, Melbourne Connect. The precinct’s three buildings recently topped out, bringing to life an ultra-modern work, research and living space.

The 74,000 m² innovation hub will comprise three connected buildings arranged around a central courtyard housing an array of tenants including the Melbourne School of Engineering, Melbourne Entrepreneurial Centre, student accommodation,  co-working space, and commercial industry partners. Childcare facilities will span the upper floors to the rooftop terrace.

The multi-coloured, patterned facade is the first thing you’ll notice which includes 3D glazed window panels and shade hoods designed to optimise daylight, maximise views, reduce glare, and minimise energy consumption. 

During the concept stage, parametric modelling allowed rapid digital prototyping of window panel and shade hood geometry options to balance energy performance requirements with occupant comfort.

The facade was optimised to balance comfort with energy consumption using angled shade hoods (left) and 3D glass window panels or prisms (right).

"This resulted in an arrangement of irregular prisms different on each elevation. Whilst they were developed for functionality, they ultimately create the buildings’ own unique character,” says Project Design Architect and Principal at Woods Bagot, Hazel Porter.

This is one of many energy-saving design features employed to achieve a precinct-wide 40-50% reduction in energy consumption compared to conventional buildings. 

“Once we optimised the facade design for heat loading we developed the narrative to  respond to the site’s off-campus context - transforming the typically low-scale residential vernacular of Carlton into a modern interpretation with ‘up-sized’ brick detailing, depth and patterning,” says Porter.

The 6 star Green Star precinct is being delivered by a consortium led by Lendlease, with Woods Bagot the lead architects and masterplanner, supported by Hayball for the student accommodation and ASPECT Studio for the landscape design. Structural engineering, facades, acoustics and sustainability design was undertaken by Arup whilst services engineering was provided by Norman Disney Young

The consortium won a design competition held by the University to redevelop the 700 Swanston Street, Carlton site (formerly occupied by the Royal Women’s Hospital) to turn it into a modern innovation, research and entrepreneurial hub.

The precinct’s purposeful design perfectly hits the spot by blending functionality with a seamless, open and natural feel. 

“What we’ve generated are new forms and, importantly, opportunities for exceptional circulation through the site and a great diversity of spaces at ground level, as well as maximised sunlight for wellbeing and sustainability.”

This inclusive approach is embodied in the precinct’s defining feature - a shared ‘superfloor’ connecting all three buildings together across the first level to encourage collaboration between the precinct’s private, government and university tenants. 

“The superfloor provides a space that facilitates cross-pollination between researchers, startups, government and industry to enhance innovation and strengthen the translation of university research into outcomes that are useful to society,” says Porter.

Incorporating presentation space, meeting rooms, exhibition area and a cafe, the 4,500m² superfloor connects the three buildings, each comprising of separate structural systems. 

One of which is a 5-storey CLT & glulam timber structure, chosen for its low carbon footprint, lightweight nature, and aesthetic, which aligns with the modern technological theme of the precinct. It also provides added benefits during construction including safety, quality and fast erection time.

Arup engineered the superfloor with bespoke isolation joints between the buildings, and the removal of permanent movement joints at ground level, to allow each building to behave independently to seismic forces, wind and thermal movement.

The superfloor formed part of Woods Bagot’s overall vision to create a light-filled, green, all-in-one co-working, co-researching and co-creating space that sets a new benchmark for the modern-day workplace.

“Melbourne Connect brings together academia and industry, creating spaces for new thought and opportunities for collaboration” - Lendlease/Woods Bagot Design Competition Submission

The precinct’s three buildings will sit around a central open-air courtyard, dubbed the ‘Oculus’, which will be the focal point and provide public green space for outdoor events whilst adding ‘an abundance of greenery and light to the entire precinct’. 

“We wanted to create a sense of space and openness unimpeded by visual barriers or level changes,” says Porter. “This invites people into the space and allows them to see all the precinct has to offer.”

The Oculus space features vertical green ‘living louvres’ that bring the opportunity for micro-climate interventions; to reduce heat, wind and noise. 

Under the hood, the precinct adopts carefully considered sustainability measures in line with the industry-leading, multi-functional research and innovation ideology from which the precinct was conceived.

“We wanted to push the boundaries of sustainable outcomes that could practically be applied with consideration of commercial feasibility,” says Richard Stokes, Melbourne Sustainable Buildings Leader at Arup.

This starts with reducing energy demand through the optimised facade and also includes site-wide greywater treatment, airtight whole building envelope design, a precinct heating and cooling network and best-in-class lighting and HVAC system specifications.

Renewables generated on-site will deliver 10% of the buildings’ power consumption. This includes 370 KW of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels across the roof - one of the largest PV arrays in Melbourne.

“A closed-loop geothermal system will use the ground as a source of heating and cooling to contribute to the buildings’ on-site renewable energy generation,” says Stokes, “The research team within the building will collect the data from on-site renewables for improving its application in future projects across Melbourne.”

An on-site greywater collection and treatment system will enable a significant volume of water to be reused within the precinct, which is enhanced by the mixed-use nature of the site.

“Due to the various building functions including commercial and residential tenancies, complementary water usage profiles created an opportunity to implement greywater reuse effectively across the precinct,” says Stokes.

Greywater will be reused for toilet flushing and cooling tower heat rejection in combination with rainwater collection for irrigation. 

“Along with water-efficient fixtures and fittings throughout, this will result in a 35% reduction in potable water consumption.”

The best ideas are often the most obvious in hindsight - and it seems obvious now that cross-collaboration and functionality should be emphasised in the modern workplace in order to bridge the gap between typically siloed industry functions. 

“The challenge was communicating the concept to do the aspiration justice - portraying the design vision and making people fall in love with it, in the same way that we could envisage it in our own minds,” says Porter.

As Melbourne Connect comes to life and realises its vision, it brings about a step change transforming workplaces of the past, to those beyond 2020, giving us a glimpse into the future of work. It is the wake-up call we needed to inspire workplace innovation which has been almost non-existent in the last half century, and which has failed to keep pace with modern working modes and preferences.

COVID-19 has taught us that a traditional workplace, as merely a room, four walls and a desk, does little (if anything) for productivity, and even makes us question whether the daily commute is worthwhile in the era of video conferencing.

But the highly functional design of Melbourne Connect demonstrates that Hazel Porter and the Woods Bagot team had an unrelenting focus on creating a space that fosters collaboration, creativity and wellbeing - not just for the sake of designing an ultra-modern workspace, but to completely reinvent the nature of work itself. 

This will make Melbourne Connect not just the envy of workplaces everywhere, but more importantly, a workplace worth commuting to.

Melbourne Connect is due for completion in late 2020.

Project Design Architect and Principal at Woods Bagot, Hazel Porter on the Melbourne Connect site inspecting the prefabricated engineered timber components.
Bricks from the Royal Women's Hospital which previously occupied the site were reused as a casted-in feature of the precast concrete entry portals by Byrne Construction Systems.
Members of the project team responsible for the facade travelled to China to inspect the 1:1 prototype of the innovative facade system.
Melbourne Sustainable Buildings Leader at Arup, Richard Stokes.