RMIT has begun a new phase for the Design Hub with the incorporation of some of the latest breakthroughs in solar technologies into its iconic façade.
Professor Paul Gough, Pro Vice-Chancellor Design and Social Context and Vice-President, said the initiative marked the first step in delivering on the building’s original proposition for a “smart-skin” façade, which can evolve together with advances in solar technology over the coming decades.
“The solar project will also support RMIT research and teaching in sustainable energy, realising the original vision of the building becoming a true ‘living laboratory’,” Gough said.
“The entire façade of the Design Hub is being fitted with high-performance interlayer toughened laminated glass, an initiative that will also improve the façade’s performance in terms of health and safety by addressing the issue of a small number of discs breaking since the building’s completion.
“While the original façade is fully certified and meets relevant building codes, health and safety is RMIT’s highest priority and we have been methodical and detailed throughout this process to ensure a quality outcome.”
Under the new phase, sections of the façade will incorporate Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), which are also manufactured using the same high-performing interlayer.
This is a first in Victoria and will give an opportunity to trial a groundbreaking prototype, developed at RMIT and inspired by an American fern.
A team led by Professor Min Gu is working on a new type of electrode that could boost the capacity of existing integrable storage technologies by 3000 per cent.
Gu, Leader of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Nanophotonics and Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the breakthrough electrode prototype was being combined with a solar cell to trial on-chip energy harvesting and storage.
The graphene-based prototype also opens a new path to the development of flexible thin film all-in-one solar capture and storage, bringing us one step closer to self-powering smart phones, laptops, cars and buildings.
In another initiative, a bank of discs on the north side of the building will be fitted with solar generators, with the electricity stored in a Tesla battery and used at night to power the large illuminated RMIT sign on the south side.
Gough said: “This demonstrates that as well as generating power for the building, BIPVs will act as an applied learning and teaching showcase and a research test bed, advancing practical solar research.
“This approach to incorporate new solar technologies will continue and expand into the future across the building, as further innovation in this strategically important area of research becomes available.”
While its technological performance will advance, the appearance of the iconic façade will not change, maintaining design integrity.
Entering its sixth year of use, the Design Hub is one of Melbourne’s most recognisable – and awarded – new buildings.
It has brought a renewed focus on the critical role of design as a catalyst for innovation and growth, encouraging collaboration across disciplines and engaging thousands of people through its exciting public programs.
“The Design Hub was always intended to be beacon of what is possible in design and sustainability,” Gough said.
“This latest initiative will enhance the building’s already strong ESD credentials as well as taking advantage of breakthrough innovations in BIPV – the futuristic cousin of traditional rooftop solar panels – and in power storage.
“Technology has now caught up with the original vision for the Design Hub and we are excited to begin this next phase of the life of this landmark building.”
As a significant investment in sustainability, the upgrade aligns with RMIT’s $128 million plan to cut its energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions – the Sustainable Urban Precincts Program.
The eight-year program will reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 tonnes and water use by 68 million litres, by implementing energy and water saving initiatives across RMIT’s three Melbourne campuses.
The program builds on a state government initiative to cut power and water use in public facilities.
The Design Hub façade project is expected to be completed by late 2017. The building will operate normally throughout this period.
Story: Gosia Kaszubska