RMIT turns building's broken glass into ray of sunshine

RMIT's Design Hub on Swanston Street, soon after it was completed in 2012.  Photo: Supplied
RMIT's Design Hub on Swanston Street, soon after it was completed in 2012. Photo: Supplied

RMIT will replace more than 16,000 large glass disks on its critically acclaimed Design Hub in Swanston Street, after nine of the disks broke almost 18 months ago and created safety concerns.

And, in a bid to turn the negative into an environmental positive, the university will simultaneously make many of the replacement glass disks green energy generators, incorporating photovoltaic solar cells into large sections of the facade.

Since November 2014, scaffolding has covered the lower levels of the $80 million Design Hub - which won a series of major architecture awards after its opening in 2012.

The scaffolding was erected after broken disks were found at the building's base. The discs are made of toughened safety glass designed to break into small pea-shaped granules. A statement from RMIT said the small number of disk breakages had "conformed to this performance criteria".

RMIT pro vice-chancellor Paul Gough said that the scaffolding around the base of the building would be removed within a year.

RMIT solar researchers will work with the building's original architect, Sean Godsell, to incorporate photovoltaic solar cells into many of the replacement glass disks.

RMIT hopes the facade may eventually produce enough solar energy to run the entire building, and there is potential for retaining power with on-site battery storage.

The addition of the new solar energy disks to the building - praised by architects for the purity of its design - will not change its appearance.

The project to replace the disks and add the new solar cells to parts of the facade will go to tender soon. The university said in a statement that the work would be completed by next February.

Mr Godsell, who worked with Peddle Thorp Architects on the building, said its design had always allowed for the disk facade to be updated as solar technology improved. Had they relied on the technology of the day, he said, the building would have been "outdated before it was even finished".

"A decade ago it was clear that the world was going to go green," Mr Godsell said, so the facade had been built with a view to future adaptations.

Professor Gough said the Design Hub had always been intended to be a beacon of "what is possible in design and sustainability", and that having to replace the thousands of disks could now combine with innovations in photovoltaic solar cells and power storage. "Technology has now caught up with the original vision," he said.

This story RMIT turns building's broken glass into ray of sunshine first appeared on The Age.