Vertical campuses: tall, green and the next big thing

Western Sydney University this week became part of a growing global trend of developing mixed-use, vertical campuses with solid green credentials.

The $220.5 million Architectus-designed tower is one of the cornerstone buildings of the Parramatta Square urban renewal precinct.

It comprises 14 levels, which will be home to the first WSU campus to be located in a Sydney CDB, and A-grade commercial office space that has already attracted PwC and WaterNSW as anchor tenants.

High Rise on The Green at UC Ohio

Developed by Charter Hall in partnership with the university and constructed by John Holland, it has a 5 Star Green Star rating and is targeting a 5 Star NABERS rating.

It has been named the Peter Shergold Building in recognition of the university’s chancellor.

WSU vice-chancellor Professor Barney Glover said the opening of the campus marked a new era in how the university delivered teaching and research and engaged with the community.

“The Parramatta City campus has been an ambitious undertaking by the university and our partners, Charter Hall, John Holland and the City of Parramatta Council,” Professor Glover said.

“In just two years we have realised our vision to develop a world-leading campus that not only gives our students an enriching and unparalleled learning experience, but which is also deeply embedded in the economic, social and civic life of Parramatta. It is an achievement we are immensely proud of.”

About 10,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the School of Business and other disciplines are expected to attend the campus. Being in the same building as private and public sector enterprises is expected to provide the students with more opportunities for “work integrated learning”, and foster research collaborations that have a focus on industry impact.

Charter Hall chief executive David Harrison said the university had been “visionary in their pursuit of creating new ways for students to learn”.

Roosevelt Island Campus

One aspect of this is that the architectural design did not include any standard lecture theatres. Instead a series of smaller workspaces and digital “learning studios” are the major elements.

Some of the spaces feature writable walls and videoconferencing facilities, and there are more than 550 digital screens and information panels located throughout the campus.

The first nine levels, which are occupied by the campus, have a massive atrium in the centre that provides extensive natural light. There are also two landscaped outdoor terraces designed by Aspect Studios on levels nine and 14.

The core of the building has been located on the western elevation. This reduces the thermal impact of western sun, allowing the rest of the building to have extensive glazing of the facade without the need for massive amounts of shading.

Beyond brutal towers – the big green trendsetters

While vertical campuses are not new – Sydney’s iconic Brutalist tower at UTS has been with us for decades – adding multiple uses and sustainability into the equation is definitely a forward step.

The trend is also taking off in the United States.

In Chicago, Roosevelt University’s Wabash Building has combined the functions of five traditionally separated buildings into one LEED Gold-rated 32-storey tower.

Designed by VOA and completed in 2012, the building incorporates classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices, student union, student services and 634 residential beds.

Its location also means very few staff or students need to drive there, with multiple public transport modes available along with cycle and pedestrian paths. The university estimated that around 94 per cent of occupants use active travel or public transport to get there.

Renewable sources account for 72 per cent of its energy, and it uses 28 per cent less energy than a conventional equivalent building.

VOA has said strategies for energy efficiency include orientation, massing, strategic program stacking, natural ventilation and latent-heat recovery.

The building also has a closed-loop food system, with food grown in roof gardens used in the cafeteria, and waste from the cafeteria composted to go back in the garden as fertiliser.

In Ohio, the University of Cincinnati is due to complete a 10-storey mixed-use building currently nicknamed “The High Rise on the Green” by the end of this year.

The project comprises housing for 330 students, a full kitchen, servery, 275-seat dining hall, retail cafe and just under 1115 square metres of university offices.

The university has a sustainable building policy, so architects GBBN were obliged to create a design that achieves LEED Silver certification or higher.

Wabash Building

Then there’s Cornell Tech’s new Roosevelt Island Campus in New York, where all things tall and green and mixed-use are currently coming together in a small-footprint built precinct connected to 2.5 acres of outdoor space including park areas and outdoor learning spaces.

A variety of sustainability approaches are being incorporated into the design of major buildings.

The Bloomberg Centre for example, which brings together researchers, students, staff and the general public, is aiming to be one of the US’s largest net-zero buildings, with all its energy generated on campus from renewable sources. It is also targeting LEED Platinum.

The 350-unit accommodation building, The House, is one of the first residential high rises in the world to be designed and built to Passive House Standards.

Workspace photo by Sally Tsoutas

The Bridge sees venture capitalists, tech startups and entrepreneurs co-located with researchers, academics and students in a LEED-Silver building with a rooftop PV canopy that will help supply the Bloomberg Centre.

Given universities are where the next generation of makers, doers and thought-leaders are going to be emerging from, the fact that so many are adopting sustainability in the buildings students live and learn in could be an encouraging sign that the days of fossil-fuelled dinosaur-thinking could soon be behind us.

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