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RMIT Design Hub by Sean Godsell Architects, Melbourne, Australia

A nine story tower of flexible loft-like structures cloaked by 774 sequin-like glass discs

Australian architect Sean Godsell was first spotted by the AR when his Carter/Tucker House in Victoria was highly commended in the 2000 Emerging Architecture Awards. Two years later, Godsell went on to be selected as a prizewinner in the same awards, for Peninsula House in Melbourne. The AR editor at that time, Peter Davey, described it as, ‘made with even more subtlety and detailed care than its predecessor’.

Both houses were entirely cloaked in timber-slatted screens, with operable, flip-up panels. Setting the slats horizontally in the first scheme and vertically in the second, Godsell took his investigation to the next logical step, returning to the AR’s pages in August 2006 with St Andrews Beach House, clad in a two-way cross-hatched Cor-ten steel mesh. Godsell’s latest project takes this investigation further still. The Design Hub, for RMIT University in Melbourne, has a veil-like skin that in this urban context (the building is set on the corner of Swanston and Victoria Streets and is visible from the city’s civic axis) operates on a far larger scale.

Applying the same organisational and environmental logic as his domestic projects, Godsell disengages space from skin. With RMIT Design Hub, this translates into a nine-storey tower of flexible loft-like workshops, cloaked by 774 sequin-like 600mm glass discs. More robust than sequins, however, Godsell’s components resemble steel drums, with each comprising a 130mm-deep galvanised-steel hoop infilled with either sandblasted glass or photovoltaic cells.

As a system, the facade comprises a bespoke double-glazed inner skin, set 700mm behind the operable veil. It is pre-assembled into 1.8 x 4.2m panels, each with 21 discs. Out of these, 12 are operable and nine are fixed, apart from those on the ground floor and plant-room levels, which are all fixed. The operable discs open to 90 degrees, pivoting on horizontal axles on the north and south elevations and vertical axles on the east and west elevations, giving the facade an orientation-specific response. Automated through separate electrically operated actuators, each panel will be controlled by the Building Management System (BMS), programmed to close to prevent direct sunlight hitting the main curtain wall, and to retreat in periods of strong wind.

On site and due to completein early 2011, the RMIT Design Hub will bring together post-graduate students who are currently dispersed across various facilities. Colin Fudge, pro vice chancellor at RMIT, says: ‘This building manifests RMIT’s acknowledged global leadership in design research and education, and provides environmentally advanced, flexible space on the main spine of the city.

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