Leadership needed in NZ educational sector Monash University shows what can be achieved

15 July 2021 by Jason Quinn

New Zealand got underway with Passive House before our Aussie mates but sadly we’ve been thoroughly surpassed in the last couple of years. We have no Passive House projects to rival the scale and ambition of Monash University’s Woodside Building for Technology and Design. The striking five-storey building is a “living lab” for IT and engineering students and researchers, deliberately designed to allow students to learn from the building itself (see the case study on page 86 of APHA’s excellent book, Passivhaus in Australia, to learn more. This article also includes some outstanding photos.)

And it won prizes, lots of them, as detailed in this SMH article.

In addition, Woodside was certified as Australia’s first carbon-neutral construction project and generates its own power via 230 kilowatts of solar panels. Why? Because Monash leaders made a public commitment to achieving net zero emissions for its university campuses by 2030. Yes, you read that right: less than 10 years away.

Woodside wasn’t a one-off. Monash University had already built certified Passive House accommodation to house 150 students at its Peninsula campus. At 5000m2, Gillies Hall is the biggest certified Passive House building in the southern hemisphere. It’s an exciting combination of a CLT structure and an all-electric, low-energy design. That’s a fantastic marriage but was an uncommon one at the time this building was being designed.

Monash is showing real leadership. Its commitment to carbon neutrality throws down a gauntlet to others in the education sector. These two very large, complex projects also increased the knowledge, skills and experience of a great many professionals in the design, project management and construction sectors and supported suppliers of quality building components. Big projects like these lift the profile of the Passive House building standard; they blaze a trail and make it easier for others to make similarly good choices.

That’s why I’m gutted that we’re not seeing universities here in New Zealand show the same kind of leadership. There have been big construction projects in our three biggest cities and all have been missed opportunities. Tertiary sector institutions have added incentive to specify radically energy-efficient buildings because they will own and operate those buildings forever. You’d think it would be easier to settle on a long-term view, that accounts for the dramatic savings in operating costs for heating and cooling. The ROI of additional costs to build to Passive House standard (if any) would be swift. Such projects may also be eligible for ECCA funding to assist crown-owned entities to construct more energy-efficient buildings.

And given all the talk about pastoral care, you’d also think the administrators of our educational institutions would value learning and living environments that are healthier and more productive for their students.

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