Woods Bagot designed a colorful, geometric façade for the Knox Innovation Training Opportunity and Sustainability Centre to make a vivid impression on its students, who are interested in pursuing future careers in sustainability.

Credit: Peter Bennetts

On the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, a green movement is under way in an area known for its stunning blue bay views. Sited on the northern edge of Swinburne University of Technology’s Wantirna Campus, the Knox Innovation Training Opportunity and Sustainability Centre (KIOSC) reflects a partnership between a consortium of seven local primary schools and Swinburne’s Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Division. Designed by the Melbourne studio of Woods Bagot, the two-story, 1,800-square-meter (19,375-square-foot) building provides learning spaces and a training hub to prepare secondary school students (roughly equivalent to grades 7 to 12 in the U.S.) for careers in sustainability.

A striking green ombré façade conveys the building’s purpose without excessive signage. Woods Bagot design leader Bruno Mendes says, “The schools’ principals wanted the building to capture the kids’ attention as soon as they get off the bus.” The nearly 130-foot-long system comprises 36 undulating vertical louvers—or “blades”—painted a gradated palette of green hues that contrasts with the context of predominately red brick campus buildings.

The north-facing louvers shade the glazed wall beyond and angle out in a cantilever to meet the 4-meter-deep (13-foot-deep) roof eave. While some blades are purely ornamental, those aligning with the structural column grid, spaced 19.5 feet o.c., help support the roof’s weight and tie into the building’s timber frame. All the blades—structural and nonstructural alike—are supported by internal steel framing that’s integrated into the building’s second-story floor slab with a standard plate connection detail. Below the second floor level, the blades flare out once again while maintaining plenty of head room to accommodate entry doors on grade. Perforated mesh panels span the lower sections of the blades, similar to awnings, and provide additional sun shading.

Modeled in Rhino 3D software, the louvers themselves comprise square hollow steel tube framing clad in painted, 3-millimeter aluminum sheets. Each blade is 100 millimeters wide, approximately 21 feet tall, and an average of 650 millimeters deep. The stick-frame glazing system inboard of the green spans between the roof and floor slabs with 8-inch-deep aluminum box sections. The blades were prefabricated and installed over a three-week period after all of the other building framing was in place. While this was not the quickest construction method that could have been used, Mendes says, the team could afford the time because of the modest scale of the building, which took slightly more than a year to complete.

Students experience the blades from several angles. A curved exterior pedestrian ramp provides direct access to the building’s upper level and frames the initial approach. Inside, circulation occurs alongside the façade on an upper-level atrium and lower-level corridor. Outside, the façade becomes the backdrop for an outdoor amphitheater at the lower level beneath the ramp, where students enjoy lunch and attend lectures.

By emphasizing construction details and building systems, the architecture becomes part of the sustainability-focused curriculum. “The blade wall is the focal point, but it also helps educate kids about sustainable building systems and construction through interactive learning,” Mendes says. Touch screens describe the building’s green initiatives, and students can use cellphones or tablets to scan QR codes on the façade to learn about the glazing performance and the building as a whole.

“As architects, we try to design green buildings, and while our peers understand the language of sustainability, not everyone is familiar with that terminology,” Mendes says. Through its eye-catching, functional, and educational façade, KIOSC is making a vivid first impression on the next generation of green industry experts.