Melbourne School of Design

The Melbourne School of Design, located at the centre of the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus, is a state-of-the-art academic facility, designed by John Wardle Architects (Melbourne) and NADAAA (Boston) in collaboration. A large-scale laboratory for built environment education and research, the building sets a new standard for design education in the Asia-Pacific region.

The design of the building facilitates collaborative interdisciplinary engagement and the critical exploration of complex built environment issues. The unique transparency of the space supports the vision of a pedagogical building. Exposed materials and structures, such as the underside of the Y-Stairs, give insight into construction techniques and fabrication. Features such as the steel mesh balustrade and open top gallery allow for sight-lines and transparency between levels.

Embedded in the design is a commitment to sustainability and green architecture. The Melbourne School of Design building has been awarded a 6 Star Green Star Design – Education Design v1 rating by the Green Building Council of Australia and is the first building in Australia to be awarded the maximum 10 Green Star innovation credits.

The eToolLCD software was used to complete the Life Cycle modelling of the building to complete the EN15978 compliant reporting required by the Green Star Materials Life Cycle Innovation Challenge credit. Following training from eTool, Umow Lai conducted a whole of building Life Cycle Assessment on the building compared to a ‘Business as Usual (BAU)’ reference case and presented the findings of 10 environmental impact categories.

Results Summary

Impact CategoryUnit                  % Saved Against Green Star Benchmark
Global Warming Potentialkg CO2e/m2

34 %

Abiotic Resource Depletionkg Sbe/m2

35 %

Acidification Potentialkg SO2e/m228 %
EutrophicationkgPO4e/m230 %
Ozone Layer Depletionmg CFC11e/m27%
Human ToxicitymDALY/m232 %
Land Usem2 /year deprived arable/m2-78 %
Fresh Water Depletionm3/m251 %

Project features

Design life

The project was assessed according to the Green Star Materials Life Cycle credit and has a proposed design life of 60 years. The building is expected to remain on-site for a longer period that this given the expense, planning and foresight of the University of Melbourne. However, at the time Green Star required all buildings that are assessed for the credit to assume a 60 year design life, this requirement has since been relaxed.


The roof beams that span the atrium were prefabricated off-site as LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) beams replaced significant amounts of steel and also providing shade to the atrium below through their angular form.

CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) composite concrete slabs were considered for the project and extensive testing was completed, but due to cost and programming implications, this measure was unfortunately not included in the final construction. 

The facade features perforated zinc shading devices which have been parametrically designed to optimise shading, views and daylight whilst the materials component was considered in terms of the embodied carbon impact, selecting zinc over aluminium.

As part of the ‘living learning building’ concept, the architects exposed various areas of the building’s services, finishes and structure throughout the project to provide spaces for staff and students to teach and learn respectively. This dematerialisation also had positive LCA impacts.

Operational Energy

The following innovative energy strategies provide significant savings over a business as usual BCA compliant design:

  • Mixed mode building that uses mechanically driven natural ventilation for extended periods of the year, significantly reducing energy consumption.
  • A combination of user controls, occupant education and automatic building management systems enable the building to continually seek to improve the energy performance of the space.
  • High performance building envelope with double glazing, extensive shading and increased insulation levels.
  • Atrium provides daylight into deep plan building.
  • Highly efficient water cooled chillers (using recycled water from rainwater harvesting)
  • LED lighting throughout.

Benefits for the University

The building has been a huge success since it was opened, with students filling the spaces and enjoying the new building’s excellent indoor environment quality.

When impacts are measured in terms of unit impact / m2 of useable floor area, as required for Green Star, the functionality benefits of the design can be measured and compared. However, if the building was being considered in terms of unit impact / occupant and the analysis allowed for the increased popularity of the new building, the improvement over the reference building would be even more impressive. 

The importance of designing spaces that are well used should not be underestimated and the University of Melbourne is reaping the rewards of the success of this fantastic new building.

This assessment was conducted by Umow Lai.