Great Expectation

 10 Jun 2014

You would imagine designing the new Melbourne offices for the Australian Institute of Architects (Institute) would be a fairly intimidating proposition for any design professional. It’s the sort of scenario that’s likely to attract more than its fair share of expert interest and scrutiny. Indeed it’s the sort of pressure a chef might feel cooking for a room full of chefs and food critics – multiplied by 100.

“There was a fair bit of internal pressure, to be honest,” says Hassell architects senior associate Rob Ryan, the man in charge of the fit-out for the Institute’s new Victorian facility. “We had to make sure it was good and we knew we were sure to be critiqued,” he says.

The Australian Institute of Architects’ new Melbourne office is both an exercise in cutting edge sustainable design and – for its creators – meeting the high expectations of their peers.

It’s too early to know how the space will be received by the architect’s peers (the Institute have only just moved in at the time of going to press, and the finishing touches were still being made to the exterior and the interiors for the public spaces) but it’s clear the base building and the interiors are indeed innovative contributions to Melbourne’s CBD.

The brand new building, 41X, has been developed by the Institute on its blue chip site at Melbourne’s 41 Exhibition Street, under the watchful eye of Daniela Crawley, National Projects Manager. 41X is to be an exemplar of contemporary sustainable commercial architecture. The 22-storey base building (including ground floor), designed by Lyons Architects, has been designed to target carbon neutrality over its 30-year operating lifespan, accounting for embodied energy, base building operational energy, transport and waste. The reduction of 41x’s carbon footprint will come via offsite carbon offsets guaranteed by a Sustainability Charter that has been drawn up by the Institute for the building. “We believe 41X is the first strata-titled commercial building in Australia that incorporates a sustainability charter binding owners and tenants to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality,” Institute CEO David Parken said.

Internally the Institute is now accommodated on the first five floors of the slim new 22-storey building. Hassell was commissioned to design the fitout for these floors. On the ground floor is retail space, level one there is a café, and the Institute’s bookshop, Architext. There is a function space on level two, and on levels three, four and five are the Institute’s offices. Levels one, two, three and four are connected by an internal staircase – “The overwhelming need,” says Rob Ryan, “was for a place that people could meet and gather and share.”

The brief for the Institute’s needs were gathered from consultations with management and staff, with a survey taken among the Institute’s membership. “At the end of the day the Institute is there for the members,” explains Ryan. “It’s a non-profit organisation based around support for architects and designers.”

One of the key needs to come out of the briefing process was that it be “a hub for architects and designers,” says Ryan. “They were very keen to create this sense of place where designers can meet, gather, discuss, learn and connect with each other.” The other key requirement was the workplace component for Institute staff “which is about connection and flexibility and transparency – those types of things,” says Ryan.

On level four the main hub breakout space is a place where Institute staff can have lunch or have meetings. The space is serviced by a kitchenette fitted with a Zip HydroTap (see story opposite). Zip HydroTap appliances are also installed in the catering kitchen on level two’s function space while level three and level five each have a Zip HydroTap at tea points.

The Zip HydroTap “offered value for money and – with the environmentally sustainability requirements of the Institute – it’s better than other products,” says Ryan.

"Article taken from Boiling Point issue no. 22, published by the Indesign Media Asia Pacific."