Uni of South Australia – how the M2 fared

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M2 Building, the University of South Australia’s $50 million research-focused facility is the “benchmark for other UniSA projects”.

When University of South Australia’s Materials and Minerals Science Building and Plasso at the Mawson Lakes campus was completed in 2011, it marked a new trajectory for the university’s approach to new assets.

Known as the M2 Building, the $50 million research-focused building achieved a 5 Star Green Star Design and As-Built rating.

The building and its delivery has been a “benchmark for other UniSA projects”, in particular major capital investments and new buildings, according to Christina Coleiro, UniSA senior project manager.

“It has set the benchmark for project delivery, quality and standards of systems and finishes, technical detailing and reviews and UniSA’s approach to the successful commissioning and hand over of new buildings.”

Designed by John Wardle Architects + Swanbury Penglase, key features include 10 purpose-built laboratories.

The M2 contains 10 purpose built laboratories.
Photograph courtesy of University of South Australia

In addition to specifying the 5 Star Green Star aspiration in the brief, the project had a target of maximum carbon emissions of 80-85kg of CO2 per square metre of space.

 Tactics for achieving the performance goals included passive design, façade treatments and services design. A chilled beam system, active mass cooling and “fabric socks” for delivery of air to the laboratory spaces were incorporated.

M2 also has rainwater harvesting and grey water re-use for water-efficiency.

Coleiro says the response of staff and students who first occupied the building was generally “overwhelmingly positive”.

A post occupancy survey conducted seven months post occupation demonstrated that there was a good to high level of satisfaction for all environmental aspects such as thermal comfort, air quality, artificial lighting, lighting levels, and access to natural light.  

General amenity of the building was rated well, apart from mobile phone coverage, she says. The issue with mobile coverage was addressed by the university’s service provider Optus later that year through the installation of a new mobile tower at Mawson Lakes. 

“For some of the UniSA staff who moved into the building, the move to open plan work environment was a significant change and a cause of concern for a few staff.”

However, as they became accustomed to working in the building the feedback was it was actually better than they expected – it was quieter – and was leading to improved collaboration. 

Well designed spaces lead to improved collaboration.
Photograph courtesy of University of South Australia

Coleiro said there have been very few comfort issues since the end of the defects liability period in 2013.

This is a “true credit” to the commissioning of the building and the performance of its systems. 

Chilled beam air flow and expectations are the biggest variable

“Most post occupancy comfort items raised are associated with the chilled beam air flow distribution functions compared to people’s expectations of air flow,” she notes.

From an energy consumption perspective it has also performed well.

“From the early days of occupation the screens in the public spaces demonstrated the building’s energy usage encouraging building users to be mindful of not wasting water and power,” Coleiro says.  

“This subliminal message, coupled with occupancy sensors and other environmental controls, seems to have resulted in positive energy use behaviour by building users.”

One aspect of the building that has perhaps been less successful is the chiller arrangement.

“…the screens in the public spaces demonstrated the building’s energy usage encouraging building users to be mindful of not wasting water and power”

Coleiro says during the project the mechanical chiller solution was changed from a water cooled to air cooled chiller with evaporative pads as a cost saving. The evaporative pads on the air cooled system has been the source of problems which have impacted on the overall energy performance.

And due to the set parameters with the Green Star Rating modelling tool it has been difficult to compare the energy usage to the Green Star Energy Model prepared for the project.

“In spite of that, when compared to other laboratory projects across UniSA and other universities, its overall energy performance benchmarks well.”

When it was first occupied in 2012, M2 was the most complex building in the university’s asset portfolio. Those tasked with technically managing and maintaining it reported it was nonetheless “trouble-free”.

Coleiro says this is attributed to the success of the comprehensive commissioning and “witnessing aspect” of the project’s delivery. 

The building has enjoyed very few comfort issues since the end of the defects liability period in 2013.
Photograph courtesy of University of South Australia

“UniSA placed a strong emphasis on technical reviews, commissioning and witnessing of this project- processes which involved the right internal technical staff in these activities so that all issues were ironed out during construction and commissioning.”

Those tasked with technically managing and maintaining it reported it was nonetheless “trouble-free”

There has been little need for further tuning since 2012, and overall technical performance for such a complex building has been “better than expected”.

Compared with older buildings on campus it has also performed much better overall during recent extreme heat events, despite having multiple laboratories generating additional heat loads.

“The work areas were very comfortable on extreme weather days, and the associated chiller demonstrated that it had spare capacity,” Coleiro says. 

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