NZi3 Innovation Institute
Brief A new 2300sq. m ICT innovation facility at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, to accommodate post-graduate researchers, staff, and private sector research personnel. Programme The programme is essentially spilt into two core components. An arrival space suitable for public display and interaction, with associated meeting rooms and above, a large, open, flexible space occupied by students, post graduate researchers and external collaborators. The former required less area than the latter, and yet it was programmatically clear that the publicly accessible spaces should occupy the lower floor. Moreover, as a building whose life would be completely bound to ongoing change, it was essential that the configuration of the upper floor remained entirely flexible for the life of the building. The result was an exploration of "hands free" technology - a building of cantilevers and without columns. Site The building is sited in a very real and public context at the edge of the University of Canterbury campus where the 1960s Faculty of Engineering meets the conservative leafiness of the surrounding residential precinct. It is a physical context punctuated with weighty structures built firmly to occupy their ground - serious buildings built for a serious institution, made mostly from concrete. These buildings were intended to promote and contain the disciplines of structural, mechanical and electrical engineering and appear as a singular reflection of that pragmatic world. NZi3 needed to respond to a quantum change that has since entered engineering disciplines - that of advanced computer design, imaging and exploration. The building acts as an interface between the previously separate worlds of education, research and business. Sited at the visible edge of the campus, it will also, by implication, act as an indication for the innovation and research excellence occurring within. Flexibility NZi3 provides a common ground for University post-graduates and innovative businesses to interact, where creative risks can be taken and new ideas explored. The basic building-blocks of this new territory are high-powered mobile computers, with their capacity for constant transformation, and a desire from the faculty to re-group teams on a monthly or even weekly basis. To accommodate this flexibility the building’s upper level is structurally column-free and adopts a raised service floor for cabling and air supply. Imperatives for privacy and a desire for low energy-use are simultaneously addressed by a "twin skin" facade solution - two separate glass layers with an integrated access gantry for maintenance. An operable double-glazed inner skin is protected by a white ceramic fritted outer skin which provides sun-shading and minimises loss of privacy for researchers and their business colleagues. Structure Up to 60 post-graduate researchers can operate at any one time from the upper level, suspended between two 78m long steel trusses set 18m apart and carrying a double-T precast concrete flooring system. The whole assembly is seated on four large in-situ concrete piers with two central steel pins stabilising truss deflection. This exoskeleton cantilevers 9m outward at each end, providing a deep undercarriage to approaches from east and west. Here, the utilitarian ‘teeth’ of the floor system are exposed and the finer grain of the building is calibrated with sliding cedar shutters to compensate for the absence of the fritted glass veil above. Planning The plan and section of the building are simple. One rectangular floor plate sits symmetrically over the other with sections symmetrical in both directions. All of the building's technologies are conventional but are applied in a direct way. The expressed structural truss and the veiled skin of the building deliberately collaborate to provide visual depth and layering to what is ultimately a reductive answer to the brief. Environmental Design Environmental design was integrated from the outset. Architect, services and structural engineer were involved in developing the form and concept. The orientation, overhangs, plan shape and orientation were all tested to optimise daylighting, natural ventilation and solar design. The structural design also became an integral part of the environmental thinking, conceived as a system with inherent flexibility to allow future adaptation. Thermal mass and the glass skin were carefully optimised to provide not only the desired environmental but also architectural outcomes. On the upper floor, where a lightweight structure precluded the use of thermal mass, phase-change plasterboard was used to eliminate the need for chilled ceiling panels. In addition to the passive design, the building incorporates the normal low-energy mechanical and electrical technologies to achieve a predicted total energy use of 72kWhrs/m2. In a region where water is a precious resource the design also incorporates simple water-smart techniques such as rainwater harvesting, water-efficient plumbing systems, drought-resistant landscaping and extensive rain gardens. The building was constructed in accordance with the rigorous material, waste, emissions and management criteria set by the NZGBC Greenstar and became New Zealand’s first five-star education building. Completion In some ways, the desire to eschew anything and everything that is not essential signals a return to modernist first principles, but in others, like the NZi3 programme itself, the design deals with new technologies, new demands and new opportunities.


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