New age design

Is it possible to build warm, inviting and efficient aged care facilities to a tight budget and still meet sustainable design objectives?

Alex Nock, Woodhead’s National Sustainability leader, based in the firm’s Melbourne office, is one of a growing number of architects who believes so, and practices what he preaches.

His latest project is an aged care complex in Geelong, designed for not for profit providers, St Vincent de Paul.

The development comprises four buildings, off street parking and landscaping. Three of the buildings accommodate the residents with the smaller fourth building housing administration functions.

On a greenfield site in a quiet street in Geelong, the 91 bed single storey complex is “full of great ESD elements,” Nock says.

The shape of the buildings and method of construction has been informed from a sustainable design aspect, he says.

“Sustainable design strategies and practices such as natural ventilation, solar access, thermal insulation, material selection, natural daylighting, minimising site impact and maintenance have impacted on how the facility was designed.

“We’ve managed water use, heating and cooling in ways that are not usual, and provided lots of daylight.”

The roof shape / building envelope of all living areas and residents’ rooms is designed to maximise daylight and provide cross ventilation and solar control while also accommodating solar collectors for water heating and electricity production.

Because of Geelong’s coastal climate – cool and breezy in winter, warm but not hot in summer – careful attention has been paid to internal thermal mass and ample insulation for retaining warmth in winter and preventing excess heat in summer.

Recycled bricks contribute to the thermal mass, and Victorian hardwood boards, applied shiplap fashion – so that the edge of one board overlaps the one next to it in a flush joint – contribute to insulation while presenting a warm and natural look.

On the buildings’ facades, the timber has been radially cut and left with its natural waney edge for a decorative effect. The timber will be allowed to weather naturally to produce a silvery effect.

A domestic appeal

The facility was divided up to provide three houses of 30 beds each, to provide a more domestic scale for the residents, rather than an institutional approach of one large building.

Housing around 30 residents in each accommodation building produces efficient economies of scale, reducing the amount of servicing required, but at the same time offers a more domestic feel.

To take the domestic effect further, the scale of the individual buildings has been reduced by breaking up the roofs into a number of different angled elements, instead of having one large roof per building.

These accommodation buildings are positioned around the administration building in a way that is sympathetic to the site conditions, with the administration building in the centre of the site. The result is that the houses create a residential frontage to the streetscape, while all the services are centrally placed.

Access from the administration building to the houses is via a covered walkway forming a common element that ties the four buildings together. These links lead to the living, dining and service areas of each house, creating a sense of arrival for residents and visitors. These ‘functional zones’ in turn open out into either their own courtyards or to the residential wings of each house.

Solar power, water recycling, energy management

Solar power is an important energy element and one not normally found in an ACF, Nock says, but one that more developments will probably include. Solar collectors on the roof provide power for water heating and back up the natural gas used for the cooking, heating and drying devices.

Wide eaves and roof angles contribute to climate control, cutting out summer sun while allowing the lower angled winter sun to pour in through the north facing windows.

On the eastern and southern windows screens and shades also control sunlight.

Energy management comes initially from the internal thermal mass and the lightweight insulated external cladding. Hydronic heating, ceiling fans to move the warmth around, and evaporative cooling rather than conventional air conditioning combine with cross ventilation to provide a high level of user comfort control that is very energy efficient.

In summer the cross ventilation allows hot air to rise at night through the roof above residents’ bedrooms and escape, cooling the rooms without the need for airconditioning.

In addition, energy efficient appliances, lighting and management systems were specified to reduce energy demand.

Water recycling and reduction of water waste is another sustainable design tenet that has been met. The site is terraced and rainwater is collected for use for all toilet flushing, laundry use and site irrigation. To help reduce demand on the collected rainwater, low water consumption fittings and appliances were specified throughout all buildings.

As the houses each have a courtyard which opens to the landscaped grounds, carefully chosen trees, plants, and land and water features have been incorporated into the landscaping to provide shade and cooling breezes in summer, and allow winter sunlight to the houses. As well as their energy-saving benefits, these landscape features provide a relaxing environment for the residents.

Sustainable and low pollutant materials

Materials that are as sustainable as possible in their sourcing, extraction, manufacture, use and disposal / reuse were specified. These include the Victorian hardwood planks cladding the buildings, and the recycled bricks.

Where possible mechanical methods of fixing materials such as nailing, bolting and cementing was specified rather than using adhesives which contain dangerous compounds that could affect both the tradesperson and the resident.

Internally finishes were chosen to be low VOC (volatile organic compounds) emitting or non-toxic.

Sustainable features

– Thermal mass

– Insulation

– Cross-ventilation

– Solar power

– Rainwater recyling for toilets, laundry and gardens

– Energy and water-efficient fittings and appliances

– Low VOC and non-toxic finishes

– Sustainably sourced and recyclable materials

– Mechanical methods of fixing

– Landscaping for climate control

©Sue Cartledge

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