Building the future

The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at the Innovation Campus is leading the way towards a restorative future. Centre Director, Senior Professor Paul Cooper reveals its incredible living building and the transformational research it enables.

Buildings have major economic, environmental and social impacts on communities and the planet, and up to half of all greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to their construction and use. At the SBRC, our focus is on research and industry collaboration to improve the performance of new and existing buildings and assist in the rapid decarbonisation of the built environment.

In planning the Centre’s home we sought to go way beyond the existing 6 star Green Star sustainability benchmark, and become a catalyst for other building owners and designers to look beyond current best practice well into the future.

We adopted the Living Building Challenge (LBC) regenerative design framework, the world’s most rigorous performance standard that aims to deliver buildings that give back more than they take. Buildings must be self-sufficient and operate within the limits of the site’s natural resources, producing more energy than they use and collecting and treating all water on site. They must connect occupants to light, clean air, food, nature and community.

The SBRC Building has its own solar power plant on the roof. Ground source heat pumps supply heat from the ground in winter and reject heat extracted from the building back into the ground in summer, and natural ventilation is at play all year round. Recycled materials feature prominently throughout, and all water, with the exception of drinking water, is sourced and treated on site.

The LBC system is based on measurement of actual building performance, rather than performance predicted by designers or builders, and the SBRC Building is on track to be the first building in Australia to win LBC accreditation – joining just 14 other buildings globally to date.

Our world-class facility is a flagship for our research activities and an ideal place to test and demonstrate new technologies in partnership with industry. We see it as a ‘living laboratory’, and a diverse array of technologies are already embedded in the structure of the SBRC, and we offer companies a unique opportunity to integrate their own prototypes and products to test them in the real world. We have worked with leading industry partners, including Bluescope and Arens International, to develop and test innovative technologies such as photovoltaic thermal systems and control systems for automated windows. A transpired solar collector is currently being tested on our vertical walls, while a range of products are being trialled on our rooftop test area.

The healthcare sector is a key area in which our researchers are working to improve the wellbeing of older people through evidence-based sustainable buildings research. PhD student Federico Tartarini has collaborated with aged care provider Warrigal to understand the effects of indoor environmental quality on residents with dementia, measuring aspects such as temperature, humidity, noise and light. We now understand, for the first time, how the indoor thermal environment impacts the comfort and behaviour of residents and the staff that care for them. We hope that this new insight could lead to improved guidelines for indoor environment control, building design and technologies in aged care homes and other healthcare facilities.

Also in health, a team of our students is collaborating with industry to rethink the approach to designing and building homes to enhance quality of life for older people, particularly those living with dementia. As part of the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 – an international competition challenging university teams to design, build and operate cost-effective and energy-efficient solar-powered homes – Team UOW’s Desert Rose House aims to transform housing development for the elderly by delivering a beautiful, adaptable and sustainable home that supports independent living.

Our research collaborations with industry offer exceptional opportunities for delivering public good. The recently launched Energy+Illawarra Project, funded under the Australian Government’s Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, saw our researchers work with industry and the community to develop valuable and accessible resources to demystify and facilitate energy efficiency in the home, without sacrificing comfort or wellbeing.

As plans advance for the Innovation Campus Health and Wellbeing Precinct – including a significant residential and aged care focus – we hope to apply what we have learned in sustainability in the healthcare sector and extend the concept of the living laboratory throughout this important new development.

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Visit discover more about the SBRC Building and the incredible people and research within.

Desert Rose

For people living with dementia, traditional housing designs simply don’t work. Desert Rose, a state-of-the-art home designed with the changing needs of ageing people in mind, takes a people-focused approach to building design to develop a ‘house for life’.

Named after an iconic flower that thrives in challenging environments, Desert Rose celebrates the varied capabilities of its future occupants. The net-zero energy home features a range of dementia-friendly design elements, including:

  • Line of sight to key facilities such as toilets
  • Accessibility for people with limited mobility
  • Strong points to accommodate railings and hoists, and
  • Non-intrusive sensor technologies with a range of uses, from triggering night lights to recognising if an occupant has fallen.

The team aims to inspire the building industry globally by demonstrating that houses that meet the changing needs of ageing populations can also be stylish, comfortable, affordable and sustainable.

Currently in the design phase ahead of commencing building later this year, Team UOW are working towards taking Desert Rose to the finals of the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 in November next year.

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