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Architecture’s love affair with the dark side has been around since Henry Ford decided customers of his T-Model could choose any colour so long as it was black. Ford’s preference for the enamel with the fastest drying time is relevant in the context of Stage 2 of Kangan Institutes Automotive Centre of Excellence’s (ACE) emphatic automotive learnings. Yet, unlike Ford’s fast-track production line, Gray Puksand Architects design is every inch the bespoke model. It also proves sustainable architecture and engineering need not appear clichéd in search of high environmental performance values. 


An origami of sheet metal, mostly charcoal-toned, with leaves of contrasting white and muted silver, produces a strong industrial art-form. Integrated in the manner of a vehicle sunroof and windscreen, Viridian high performance glazing is key to an astonishingly light, airy ambience. This low-rise institution emerges as one of the stars in a precinct of large statements. Capped by planning regulations to a mere 20 metres – odd given the neighborhood’s soaring towers – the four-storey structure works overtime to overcome its restrictions. 

Peter Hyatt speaks with design architect Mark Freeman of Gray Puksand, about the evolution of a special education environment: 

What was your biggest design challenge?

We had to work around the earlier Lyons design completed in 2007 and expand upon this in a way that respected the original, yet created something fresh and adventurous.

How did you deal with that restrictive 20 metre height limit and deliver so many highly focused learning spaces?

A very lengthy and detailed briefing process helped us prioritize. We brought various parties/users to the table and effectively had to understand the actual needs. Once we drilled down, we discovered that we could free-up 30-40 percent of the building’s real estate for uses other than what the client realized was possible.


What about all of the urban and environmental conditions such as traffic noise and climatic concerns?

Those were real tests. It’s a complex site with multiple aspects/orientations with very large facility areas and a demanding program. We wanted natural spaces, where people felt connected to each other and their environment. It responds on every elevation to environmental conditions.

It’s deceptive – dark and complex externally, yet surprisingly alive and light within.

There’s a strong social aspect to learning. Learning is always on centre stage with a seamless flow between technology-rich settings and double-height training spaces. The loggias provide shelter and fragmented edge spaces. The hero facade peels away to reveal the chassis, crafted moving parts, electronic elements and references future technologies. It allows controlled daylight into the building, yet maintains transparency and permeability.

The quality of experience in the void is as successful as the external window edges.

That central void is a kind of vortex that promotes people circulation and fresh air movement. And learning is always on centre-stage with a seamless flow between resource commons, a variety of technology rich settings and double-height training spaces. The old notion of an automotive workshop is gone. The industry is taking its inspiration from the laboratory. Testing and diagnostic training is now a collaborative learning activity involving international industry partnerships.


How did research influence the result?

We visited automotive companies such as Mercedes and BMW in Germany. We adapted the best of their training facilities. That high-end work really informed our proposals and the client team was very receptive.

Is the design primarily a response to place or function?

There’s inspiration from the automotive industry and that merging of process, material and assembly. The orientation was also a key factor and every façade required a different solution and is influenced by the changing demands of such issues as solar loads, outlook, courtyard and planning codes. 

How did you distill the result for efficiency and economy?

We went for primary materials such as masonry, concrete, epoxy flooring, expanses of glass and exposed services. Everything is revealed. If anything needs repair it is visible and can be mended. There’s a vast amount of mechanical services on show. It achieved a 5 star Green star energy rating, so it has a refined toughness and performance.


It’s design has the highly sociable experience.

The openness throughout its 14,000m2 is almost unprecedented in a TAFE building, or most university buildings. It really takes its cue from the better commercial projects that enable staff and students to be very aware of what is taking place and to easily see and hear what is going on. Overall it celebrates transparency and human interaction. Glass is absolutely invaluable in the creation of this space and amenity.

Every 20-30 metres there are opportunities to take a flight of stairs, pass a lecture theatre or workshop, have a coffee or find a space to meet. That really breaks the monotonous corridor that typically runs through the middle of such buildings.

How else does glass inform the project?

We considered the assembly of vehicle shells and panels. Those moldings, crimpings and fittings were key to understanding this building. That interpretation made it a logical fit and even adds to its authenticity. The layering of materials flows right through to the Alpolic finish, glazing and dyno-shield fixing that replicates, to some extent, how a windscreen fits into a car.


What was your starting point for glazing?

We basically began with a transparent box. As you respond to the climate and orientation you start to shield and protect the glazing as you move around the building. We started from the point of wanting an honest and fully transparent building.

What research went into your glass selection?

We relied heavily on our ESD consultants and their understanding of what was required to meet energy efficiency to achieve a good, high-performing, robust building. They worked behind the scenes with Viridian directly to meet compliance. From an architectural viewpoint we wanted a suite of glass to deliver clarity where possible and to use tint or mirrored product where needed. We definitely wanted enough transparency to reveal what was occurring inside to the passerby.

What other techniques do you employ?

There’s a huge amount of glass that allows daylight to pour in at a high level via the vent stacks, glass chimneys and clerestory. For most of the day artificial lighting is unnecessary.


So glazing was transformational?

Students and staff typically come from pretty archaic warehouses and sheds. This building represents a whole new world that is light, bright and naturally ventilated. It’s a building we hoped would surprise and delight and pleasingly, that’s how it has worked out. 

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To download a PDF of this article as a case study click here.

Photography by Peter & Jennifer Hyatt.

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