La Trobe University’s new Student Residence Centre may have had lightweight funding, but it has the appearance of heavyweight design. Cool, understated and quietly commanding, the new centre designed by Billard Leece Partnership (BLP), provides the perfect place for students and staff to watch the world go by – or simply hang out. Viridian EVantageTM and EnergyTechTM are instrumental in that showcase achievement of inclusiveness and an open book attitude.
The project’s cool black guise and high legibility might appear to be a place solely for student hipsters, but the reality is far more inclusive and engaging. And it doubles as a community and business resource where ‘Bendigonians’ gather for a diverse range of functions outside of university hours.
Project architect Rosemary Burne of BLP tells Vision editor Peter Hyatt how the practice squeezed every possible cent from an astringent budget.
It’s more than just a simple black box, you’ve woven and frayed the envelope along key edges that produces a fascinator-like screen along the northern elevation.
It’s a good analogy that is very apparent from within where you can see out but you can’t see in quite as well. The solar performance of the glazing and veiled mesh clearly support each other. The north-west corner with the folded veil, seen from the main approach, really cops the greatest summer heat. It also has amazing views over Bendigo and so that’s why there is so much glass. We didn’t want the obvious big picture window but we do have it in a way that’s not naked, but veiled.
What emphasis did you place on the glazing when the budget pressures were telling you to rein in every aspect of the project?
We have to be very compliant with energy ratings and we work closely with our engineers, and Viridian offers excellent technical resources. Glass specification is at least as important, if not more so, than wall specification. Glass has its own performance characteristics, but these are in some ways invisible and easy to disguise or change and often the inexperienced eye will be none the wiser.
Our builder wanted to change the glass on this project and we said ‘no way’ because we had worked out all of the energy ratings and we know how well Viridian’s product works. We didn’t want to go back and repeat the exercise for another product. It makes a big difference to the building’s appearance if you have blue, grey or green tint to say nothing of not getting the right performance glass installed. Overlaying that are opportunities with colorback, fritting, seraphic for such beautiful effects.
Budgets seem to be forever shrinking. What pressure did that put on you here?
It might have been a lean budget but key elements such as the glazing and deck are a beautiful quality and we really didn’t want to compromise on those. You do pay a penalty for building on sloping sites and building around trees, however, being elevated there’s that opportunity for people to meet, sit and observe their immediate environment. It was conceived as a verandah space, or a tree-house, so it is about being perched up there.
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Photography by Peter Hyatt & Jennifer Hyatt.