Recycling buildings

In the face of funding cuts, Australian universities can remain on top of their game by maximising what they already own. By Aileen Macalintal
Recycling buildings is a cutting-edge response for universities tightening their budget.  After all, many universities have a number of existing buildings that should not be sold or demolished in favour of new infrastructure.
David Gulland, principal of international design firm HASSELL, said, “Many buildings have heritage significance that is central to the university’s identity, and it would be very costly, wasteful and damaging to the environment to try and replace every building on campus for each new generation of students.”
“Through carefully-considered refurbishments, universities have the opportunity to retain their existing building stock while adapting them to create more relevant learning spaces,” Gulland said. “The difference between a refurbishment and a new build can be a saving in the order of $1,000 to $2,000 per square metre in construction cost,” he said. 
“Universities, like the rest of society, are always looking for opportunities to do more with less.”
Currently, HASSELL is working on the refurbishment of up to 40 teaching spaces across the Curtin University campus at a cost of $15 million over two years. It’s estimated that it would have cost the university $25 million to build from new.
Curtin upgrade
For Curtin University, refurbishment is the most economical and sustainable method to meet not only budget cut issues but also strategies in campus activation and building use. Curtin’s director of project management, Ron Hewitt, said “We have maturing buildings that require upgrading and improvements and at the same time we have rapidly changing pedagogy and a requirement for new technologies to support that, so it made sense to redevelop our existing facilities rather than add to our building stock.”
Hewitt said their goal is for more students to use these spaces more often for better learning outcomes. Centrally-allocated teaching spaces at Curtin University are designed to be flexible spaces for a variety of different learning modes.
The university decided to undertake refits over constructing new buildings as a sustainable strategy.
“This presented an opportunity to upgrade existing facilities, both building fabric and technologies at a lesser cost than the construction of new facilities,” he said.
Adelaide refit
Another example of a HASSELL’s university refurbishment design is the University of Adelaide Learning Hub, a large-scale redevelopment of an unused site on campus. To create the state-of-the-art student hub, adjoining buildings were modified.
Paul Duldig, vice-president of services and resources said, “There’s no room for expansion without venturing into the high-cost leasing of city buildings so we need to make the most of every inch of our campus.”
Duldig said the student learning hub made great use of barren space. “We turned a cement plaza, only used as a pathway from one building to another, into a three-level interconnecting student space which has become a benchmark for learning spaces, and buzzes with student activity at all hours of the day and night,” he said.
The hub central covers 10,500 square metres over three levels and facilities that include Skype booths, the Maths Learning Centre, the Writing Centre, 11 project rooms, 11 project booths, and student lounges with moveable furniture. There are also information service areas, a student kitchen, training rooms, print stations, lockers, food outlets, convenience store and post office.
“It connects all the surrounding buildings, providing an easy access route from one side of the campus to the other.”
“We had a vision of providing the best on-campus experience for students in Australia so we brought students into the design process. There was more than 9000 hours of student involvement in both the design and overall function of the space.”
Research-based design 
Hewitt said Curtin’s mature building stock required adaption to new pedagogies, and refurbishments at the university show an equal contribution from pedagogy, technology and design in response to contemporary student needs. “A number of universities and institutes have assessed outcomes following change, and in Curtin’s case we have begun to get the feedback from students and staff on the work done in 2012,” he said.
Their Teaching and Learning group use feedback in planning forums and project control, for room selection, planning and technology. “The university looks to the best value for money decisions in all projects. These decisions are not just driven by education budget cuts – they make good asset management sense,” he said.
In transforming a building, HASSELL involves the universities in decision-making about what to retain, discard or change. “We meet with the university, walk through their existing buildings and discuss with their learning and teaching experts which spaces are not reaching their potential,” Gulland said
“We observe how the spaces are currently used and may also speak with students and academics about their needs. We then work with the university on what changes these spaces need and how they could be redesigned to meet the expectations of new generations of both students and academics.”
Dimensions
Gulland said many changes are related to technology as they turn buildings into state-of-the-art teaching and research. “This is done through features such as wireless connections and video links, displaying and responding to course work in “real time”, multiple and flexible points of display,” he said.
There is also a human dimension to the designs, because consideration is given to natural light and outside views. Through their designs, they also create more opportunities in the space where people can work together flexibly and collaboratively.
“Rather than just having a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching spaces, we can also introduce flexible spaces that can be used for different types of teaching and learning, as needed – whether it is collaborative work, quiet study, group learning, private meetings or a large lecture,” he said.
He said universities are also looking for ways in which learning and research laboratories can be better integrated. “For instance, the University of Queensland is about to open its Advanced Engineering Building that has multiple labs alongside teaching spaces, and gauges integrated into the fabric of the building so students can observe it, to monitor its performance.”
Top universities place a lot of emphasis on pedagogy and the student experience, said Gulland. “Architecture and design can interrogate and interpret these aspirations, and find creative solutions in designing environments that can respond to these challenges.” 

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