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For their collaboration on the University of Tasmania’s Forestry Building, design studio Woods Bagot and engineering and sustainability consultancy Arup are extending the horizon lines of architecture’s impact, factoring in a building’s end-of-life. This is design for deconstruction.
“There’s an expansive sustainability story that we are feeding into the many layers of this project,” says Woods Bagot Associate Phoebe Settle. “For the Forestry Building we are looking ahead 50-100 years and thinking about how the choices we make now are going to play out then.”
“It’s not about designing a building capable of outliving its own death, enduring beyond reason, but a building that when it is time to turn to the new, can be deconstructed without additional harm.”
Prue Edmunds, Sustainable Buildings Engineer at Arup and Woods Bagot’s touch point for the Forestry Building project, describes an ‘extension’ of the traditional timeline for building sustainability assessment.
“You can typically assume a building’s life is 60 years, and that a lot of the architectural materials will need replacement over that lifetime. Every 10 years you’re replacing carpet or every 20 years you might have to replace some of the wall linings from damage,” says Edmunds.“For this project we are looking beyond replacement to dis-assemblage and deconstruction. Every element is being input into the life cycle assessment to measure both the upfront and embodied carbon, factoring in its impact on the journey to the Hobart site but also at the end of its life on its journey away from the campus.”
This is referred to as Module D in the assessment typology, defined as the benefits of the building that go beyond the boundary of the project, including the benefits from the reuse or recovery of the materials at the end of their life.
Upon winning the 2020 bid to design the Forestry Building — the first project in the University of Tasmania’s transformative Southern Campus masterplan — Woods Bagot and Arup knew the standards were high.
First, there was the Tasmanian context; an Australian island state that runs on 100% renewable energy, having met its goal to be fully self-sufficient on green energy in 2020, two years ahead of schedule.
And then there was the institutional context; the University of Tasmania, well at the academic vanguard of sustainable research and investment, had set a green bond that the project needed to meet a minimum 20% reduction in carbon compared to a comparable campus project.
W-B and UTAS go tree shopping ahead of replanting of Forestry Tasmania’s iconic indoor forest.
“We’re trying to stretch that goal to 30%,” says Bruno Mendes, Principal at Woods Bagot.
“Sustainability is at the heart of our design response. It is the parameter that dictates every decision we are making – from the wider architectural design through to product specifications. Everything has been detailed from the dual perspective of construction and deconstruction.”
“A key prompt for the design team was the concept of de-materialisation: asking the question of whether a material needed to be used in the first place. If it was needed, then this opened a subsequent set of questions about what we were specifying,” says Mendes.
“One such question was, at the end of a product’s life or the end of its life on this campus, how is it then taken apart and fed into different recycling streams?”
Across the project, there is a noticeable minimisation of the use of adhesives and applied finishes. This enables elements to be re-assembled in alternative locations or recycled in their specific material stream at the end of the building’s life.
Woods Bagot has also chosen products and manufactures that offer take back schemes and recycling or recovery programs.
“Say we have a task chair, and it’s reached the end of its life, instead of chucking it into the bin, it can go back to the manufacturer, and they take it apart into all its different pieces and those elements can be recycled and given a new life,” explains Phoebe Settle.
Here, longevity also came into play, specifying materials and furniture that can stand the test of time with long warranties and materiality that is durable and requires minimal maintenance.
Woods Bagot Senior Associate Alastair Flynn says that the impact of the pandemic’s upheaval of the form and format of education has seen a demand for in-built adaptability across campuses.
“Where we have seen this demand for flexibility falter is when excess elements are added into a space that are seen to enable this flexibility,” says Flynn. “What we’ve tried to do is strip that back and understand the best way to integrate adaptability into the academic environment.”
To this end, Woods Bagot designed a long-spanning structural grid of nearly 17 metres at its greatest and maximised the space of the of the ceiling structure. Floor plates aren’t cluttered with structural columns, rather there are wide contiguous spaces that will allow the University to adapt, change and reposition elements as the pedagogy and the requirements change.
The detailing on partitions is done through mechanical fixing that allows them to be demounted and repositioned in new locations. The design team have also opted for modular furniture systems that can be reconfigured and repositioned throughout the campus as changes occur
“Our work with Arup has been about telling the whole story of the project, and that includes the end of its life,” says Bruno Mendes.
“We’ve undertaken this work with tremendous empowerment from the University of Tasmania. It’s rare to not need to push clients along the journey of sustainable choices, but in this case, we are being led by them and they are setting expectations that we are rising to the occasion of.”
Far from being a limitation, the rigor from the University has supported Woods Bagot’s design vision that was clearly laid out from the beginning. To experience the campus will be to be reminded of our mutual reliance on nature, and the fragility of that relationship, through the materiality of the building itself.
The campus will be seen as more than an ambitious architectural expression but express an attitude towards consumption that is ahead of its time.
Construction is now underway on the restoration and redevelopment of the Forestry building after the project was approved by the City of Hobart in May 2022.
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