AUT learning precinct is digital, adaptable and sustainable

By Lauren Davis
Monday, 08 October, 2012

Since November 2010, construction has been underway at AUT University for the city campus’s new sustainable learning complex, the WG Precinct. It has been a long wait, with planning having begun in 2006, but the project is nearing completion and will officially open in February 2013.

The precinct cost a hefty $100 million, funded entirely by the university. Aimee Driscoll, AUT Director of Corporate Affairs, explained, “AUT is an important contributor to higher education in NZ. We have an obligation to the future of New Zealand’s economic growth to stay at the forefront of scholarship and teaching. In order to do this, we needed to provide contemporary and innovative facilities in which our students and staff can learn and teach.”

The precinct will increase the campus by 25%, with 20,300 m2 of new facilities, 1100 m2 of glazed covered plazas, 4500 m2 of collaborative social learning space and 6650 m2 of bookable learning space - all of which will encompass innovative digital technologies. But despite this increase in space and technology, the precinct will incorporate environmentally sustainable design (ESD) elements, in line with the university’s charter of ESD principles. These environmental initiatives cover several categories, including energy, lighting and the materials used.

The precinct incorporates a high-efficiency HVAC system, natural ventilation to the atrium and a high-efficiency displacement system for lecture theatres. The facades will have high energy performance due to glazing and sunshades, but low solar heat gain. A heat pump chiller has been implemented and waste heat will be used for the heating of domestic hot water. Regenerative drives have been installed to the lifts, which return energy back to the building power grid to be used elsewhere in the building, reduce heat generation and reduce cooling requirements to the lift machine room.

The precinct has a high utilisation of daylight. Where it doesn’t use daylight, low-energy lighting is used, some of which is sensor-controlled. Approximately 250 fittings in the level three public spaces are LED, producing only 5% heat. LED lighting has been selected for specialist studio spaces.

The precinct has been built from long-life materials, sustainably harvested timber and low VOC emission materials. All timber panelling is NZ grown and FSC certified. Building materials with a reduced embodied energy were selected for the precinct.

The spaces themselves will also be sustainable, as their flexibility and adaptability will enable them to be used for different purposes by the public as well as by students and staff. Lecture theatres will be supported by lobbies and foyer space, which can be used for public and student events when not required by the university. The glazed covered area, which includes a large green living wall, will increase social gathering spaces around the city campus by 67.5% and will provide:

  • Collaborative social learning areas, covered plaza and pedestrian ways;
  • An atrium plaza that will link various buildings in order to create an all-season public space;
  • An on-site cafe and free Wi-Fi throughout to support the many social gathering spaces;
  • Exhibition spaces and function areas to attract wider Auckland audiences;
  • A green quad;
  • A pedestrian area with an open public plaza;
  • A conference and function space for 250 people seated and 600 standing;
  • The potential to host a variety of events, including fashion shows and exhibitions.

The precinct will therefore cater not only to students but also to the wider city, adding value to the central city learning precinct as well as enhancing the city landscape. As Driscoll explains, “The intensive development of an inner-city site close to transport routes and hubs is part of shaping a sustainable city.”

The precinct will no doubt have a positive social and environmental impact on AUT and the surrounding area of Auckland. It can only be hoped that other universities follow in its footsteps.

By Lauren Davis

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