Led by New Academic Street (NAS) Project Director Jeremy Elia, a group of contractors, architects and sustainability experts steered staff and students through the NAS precinct to give them an insight into the unique sustainability features RMIT has implemented.
Starting the tour in the natural-light filled foyer of Building 12 level 4, well within earshot of NAS construction activity, Jeremy took the slight interruption as an opportunity to explain the ‘Rules of Engagement’ between RMIT and Lendlease – a key document that has allowed the campus to remain active as the works progressed.
“It was vital for us to maintain a level of harmony between the construction, the staff and the students – so we placed limits on the level of noise and dust that was acceptable across campus. The beeping trucks you hear now are actually within the acceptable decibel range, but people in the lecture theatres behind you could hear them when they reversed. So we moved those classes to one of our quiet contingency lecture locations, which meant students could continue with their work unencumbered by Lendlease and vice versa.”
While Jeremy was the first to admit that that biggest challenge of the project was the “live campus aspect”, both he and RMIT’s Senior Manager of Sustainability, Lin Stevenson, expressed pride at how this unconventional university environment created within itself a “living laboratory” – a place where students have been able to enrich their learning with practical experiences in ways that few others will ever get the chance to.
“For students who won’t be here after the construction has finished, we have to give them value from the project in other ways” Jeremy said “There aren’t many students who can say that their degree let them exhibit their undergrad work to the city on White Night, or that they shaped the way food waste will be sustainably managed at RMIT, but keeping the campus active during this transition has allowed us to give students these opportunities”.
This living laboratory element isn’t something that will disappear at the end of construction, as Jeremy explained that the Rooftop Gardens will give landscape architecture students a place to conduct soil and plant tests in a unique urban environment.
The sustainability efforts RMIT has adhered to – which Jeremy listed off as “a precinct-wide lighting upgrade, water saving and harvesting opportunities, efficient utilisation of natural light and a mixed-mode ventilation system that provides greater access to fresh air across campus” – has earned the new interior spaces a 5-star ‘Green Star’ rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.
For many this is one of the boldest achievements of the New Academic Street project, as unlike other 5-star rated buildings the NAS precinct wasn’t built from the ground up with sustainability in mind, but was repurposed from much older existing structures.
“We could have just demolished everything and built something shiny from scratch” Lin told attendees “but by reusing what was there already we’ve been able to reduce our impact on the environment during the build, while setting RMIT up for a sustainable future”.
RMIT’s vision to engage staff and students more practically with sustainability on campus extends to the newly opened ‘Sustainability Showcase’. The flexible, interactive space situated within NAS will exhibit the sustainable features of the wider RMIT environment in a more holistic way, which Lin believes will have impacts well into the future lives of RMIT alumni.
“Posters just aren’t engaging, digital screens can only do so much. This is a much more immersive way to present RMIT’s sustainability initiatives to students, to get them involved and aware of what can be achieved. The biggest impact we have on sustainability progress is our students, that when we send them off from RMIT they go into business with the tools to make change – whatever their field may be”.
Words: Katharine Chomkowicz