Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre

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Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre
Convention centres are a global type - places of permanent emptiness able to accommodate transient fullness, having no program to express and accommodating anything of any scale. They are generic and flexible and defy the norms of architectural composition resulting in industrial sheds veneered with architecture or modified sports stadiums expressing their virtuosity of structure over gravity. Usually located on the edge of cities, near freeways and surrounded by hotels, transport interchanges, car parks or office parks, convention centres operate like airports combining the specifics of place with the generic demands of the global. Everyone thinks and acts as though in transit: souvenir shopping and digital pictures; the oscillating usage creates peaks and troughs resulting in a condition which is either overfeed and frantic, or closed and empty. Designed by Joint Venture Architects Woods Bagot and NHArchitecture, the new Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre attempts to transcend these traditional stereotypes and deliver a building which belongs to the public and cultural life of Melbourne and is embedded within the physical and historical context of the site. As a counterpoint to Federation Square, which has come to represent the creative and artistic life of Victoria, so the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre will become a new focus for business, trade and the global exchange of ideas and information. Strategically located at a major bend in the Yarra, the project completes the vision for the rejuvenation of the river corridor established by the Southbank development twenty years earlier and offers a fulcrum into the newly expanding Docklands precinct to the north. In response to this urban context the triangular figure of the plenary building acknowledges three figurative axes – the colonial city, the developing city and the speculative city to come. The project has also negotiated the duality of its roles as both public infrastructure and a commercial venture delivered, owned and operated by private sector financing. The PPP process (Public Private Partnership) has evolved both politically and financially over the last decade with this project an example of the developing sophistication of its architectural import. Similarly the common mantra of ‘world’s best practice’ has been realised in a number of design aspects with the project becoming the first convention centre in the world to achieve a 6 Star Green Star rating awarded by the Green Building Council, and the technology to divide a 5,000 seat auditorium into three smaller halls able to operate simultaneously. Traditionally, a conference centre is a large volume building which is occupied for typically short, but intensive periods. It incorporates numerous large, variable volumes, dark spaces which do not lend themselves to the delivery of energy efficient fresh air, cooling, heating and lighting solutions. To tackle this, traditional air displacement systems were utilised which incorporate sub-floor reticulation of cold and hot air through a series of plenum-type spaces. The net effect is to reduce overall plant size and therefore energy consumption, and to improve indoor environment quality. Air displacement delivered to the first two metres avoids wasteful conditioning of air above areas which are unoccupied. Blackwater mining is another example of proven technology being used in a new environment. This is the first time a blackwater mining solution has been used in a public area of this scale, creating significant water savings. Both potable water and landscape irrigation water efficiency and consumption were minimised by water harvesting. The project achieves a significant reduction of CO2 emissions. This is accomplished through a number of initiatives including the incorporation of highly efficient chillers, pumps and fans in the design, having an average power density of 3w/m² per 100 lux; setting up a solar hot water array to entirely offset the energy consumption associated with occupant amenity hot water and sub metering all substantive energy uses. Light spill from the site will be eliminated by ensuring that no direct beam of light is directed beyond the site boundaries or upwards with out falling directly on a surface with the explicit purpose of illuminating that surface. With vast areas of floor and wall coverings, material selection came under the microscope to avoid the use of volatile organic compounds and to minimise the presence of formaldehyde. Even the large usage of natural timbers such as Australian Spotted Gum was sourced from accredited sustainable forests, the project sponsoring the first sustainable forest accredited supplier. Contained within the triangle is the 5,000 seat Plenary Hall, in essence a building within a building. Conceived as a landmark element, the auditorium is defined by a dynamic enclosure reinforced by its independence from the outer skin of the building. Clad in timber, the sculptural shapes of the Plenary walls reflect the textural qualities of the maritime history of the Yarra River. The crafted hulls of clipper ships, the cranes, working platforms of the docks and the engineered structures of the railways are all clues to the genesis of the architectural language. Serviced by a 270 degree foyer, the hall has been designed to meet the multi-modal and concurrent requirements of the facility. These include multiple public entries, with integrated links to the existing Convention Centre; self contained population flow at the southern circulation foyer with circulation able to occur concurrently within the northern public foyer; and exhibition events can be staged whilst Plenary Hall events are taking place simultaneously. As part of an explicit need to reduce operating and recurrent costs, and to offer a distinctive venue with a competitive advantage, the Plenary Hall is designed to incorporate gala venue automated seating. The use of this system will allow the seating arrangements to transform into an almost unlimited range of configurations and capacities. This new precinct will be open to the usual array of critiques against privately manufactured public infrastructure projects; but, as architects, our obligation is to transcend the politics and endeavour to create long term public benefits. We hope that this will also be a sign of its developing place in the collective consciousness of Melburnians and all Victorians.


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