Executive Summary

Executive Summary

This report presents a comprehensive analysis of the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre in terms of the building’s structure and construction. The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre is located in a constrained site bound by Crown Street (the major ‘street of Surry Hills’) to the east and ‘two residential streets’ to the west (Norton Street) and south (the Collins Street). It sits adjacent to several residential apartments, shops, commercial and industrial premises, and terrace housing. Though the buildings differ in scale, they feature a predominant Victorian architectural style.

A number of technologies are employed in different elements of the building, including the following: screen cladding system, inactive and active/operable timber louvers, windows with automated blinds, integrated sustainability tools (such as green roof, labyrinth, PV panels, and the atrium), active windows, BMS, CABS, and transitional foyer space. Precast concrete, timber and alpolic metal composite panels, timber veneers and acroma coatings, and polyurethane are the mostly used construction materials. Sustainability and transparency are the key innovative initiatives employed. TheSurry Hills Library and Community Centre can be regarded as an excellently considered building in terms of structure and construction.

The center has established itself as a sustainable and integrated building with all the functional and aesthetic principles geared towards the fundamental goal of performance – naturally ‘grown’ and tempered air, outstanding interior environmental quality, and increased energy savings driven by the atrium section among other systems.

  1. Introduction

Sydney, Australia is home to several memorable urban places overwhelmingly comprised of sporting and recreational landscaped spaces. Generally, the spaces are waterfront parklands, urban commons, and community facilities intended for the rapidly growing population in the City. Recent public works in Sydney deliver architectural components that share a unique admiration – comprising of ancillary structures and remnant architectural or archaeological elements submerged under the landscape. The characteristic urban architecture where the neighboring landscape setting is amplified to suppress the expression of public and civic function has become increasingly common across recent Sydney’s public buildings (Hardning 2010).

Designed by Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT), the Sydney’s Surry Hills Library and Community Centre assumes an atypical concept in the contemporary collection of works because it reasserts the City’s parallel practice of open expression of public architecture.  The building exploits a wide array of architectural sensation to form a compelling urban icon. This way, Surry Hills Library and Community Centre represents an exceptional public architecture that supports the following major functions: library, community rooms, and kitchens, classes (like language, computer, and cooking), childcare, café, and reading room (Hardning 2010). These functions have seen the building drive unparalleled social and ethical diversity.

This report provides a detailed analysis of Surry Hills Library and Community Centre in terms of the building’s structure, construction, and detailing. The analysis entails aspects of the building’s siting, adopted structural and construction technologies, construction materials and innovative technologies used, and a critical evaluation of the building regarding structure and construction, environmental strategy, economy, occupant amenity, and construction best practices.

2.0 The building’s siting

The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre is located on 405 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney as a replacement to an ordinary community facility that completed in 1956. Since the 1950s, Surry Hills has seen various business sectors and communities flow the area. Therefore, the site required a finely considered plan to ensure that the new library and community center would be iconic while simultaneously meeting the needs of the client and target occupants (City of Sydney 2016). The building compactly fills its constrained ‘25 by 28’ meters site and it amplifies its scale by exploiting all possible architectural elements to form a marvelous public facility. It sits opposite the Shannon Reserve where weekly markets are held and the Clock Hotel, terminating a well-established ‘street-wall condition’ (Hardning 2010).  The site is bound by Crown Street (the major ‘street of Surry Hills’) to the east and ‘two residential streets’ to the west (Norton Street) and south (the Collins Street). Therefore, three edges bind the building in the form of roads (as shown in Figure 1). Surry Hills is a Sydney’s inner-city suburb with a community characterized by income, age, and cultural diversity. The architectural context also exhibits massive diversity – residential apartments, shops, commercial and industrial premises, and terrace housing that differ in scale but feature a predominant Victorian architectural style (Gollings & Chung 2010).

Figure 1: The center’s site plan (Brady 2014)

As a ‘global’ city, Sydney has an urban architecture facing pervasive fear and the City Council strongly senses this.  The City has dense inner-city areas that the council refers to as ‘urban villages’ to pacify the vocal community that considers buildings with more than two floors high-density.  Some critics are opposed to the appropriateness of the community center’s scale in relation to the local context suggesting that the City Council has permitted a development in a site where it would have denied any private developer a similar largesse.  Crown Street constitutes one of the crucial urban streets in Sydney and its structure and could readily host this type of a building. In fact, the center has improved the overall image and meaning of neighboring facilities such as Shannon Reserve. Therefore, fear of certain urban architecture may make it difficult to deliver exceptional public architecture such as the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre (Hardning 2010).

3.0 Structural and construction technologies adopted in different elements of the building

3.1 Wall system and cladding

Externally, the building is clad with mainly active or operable timber louvers (for the eastern façade) in addition to a combination of active and inactive panels (for the southern façade). The southern glass façade is the fundamental structural feature of the building and it serves as the environmental atrium. The western façade is largely enclosed and it inactively or reservedly rests in the small Norton Street scale (Brady 2014). Therefore, the exterior wall (cladding) of the building is made up of lightweight timber and glass panels that keep out or deflect rainwater. Moreover, there is a cavity that eliminates potential moisture. Ultimately, the façade or rain screen cladding system provides ventilation and insulation to minimize direct solar gain in relation to the building (Blundell 2009).  Figure 2-5 shows the four major facades.

Figure 2-5: Northern façade (Brady 2014)

Figure 3-5: Eastern façade (Brady 2014)

Figure 4-5: Southern facade (Brady 2014)

Figure 5-5: Western facade (Brady 2014)

3.1.1 Louvers

The vertically-placed ‘timber veneer clad louver’ system is designed to enclose the three sides of the building. It stands out as an architectural landmark and also improves aesthetics (Brady 2014).

The design addresses each facade uniquely with varying number of active louvers, windows, and panels. The ‘north’ elevation is wholly flat and it rises above the existing adjacent buildings. The ‘east’ facade has majority of perforations and is the most active to reflect the Crown Street’s business. The ‘west’ facade combines the features of the ‘north’ and ‘east’ facades – flat with only an insignificant number of window openings and active components exposing the circulation shaft (Brady 2014).

The windows implement automated blinds and highly efficient glazing to minimize potential energy wastage and severe glare (Meinhold 2010).

An automated system runs the louvers to make them move in response to the sun. This prevents discomforts such as extreme glare that may be caused by excessive exposure to direct sunlight. Moreover, views from the interior vantage locations change constantly throughout the day (Brady 2014).

The louvers link the Surry Hills Library and Community Center to its site because the facades change dynamically, reflecting the elements surrounding the building. The louver implementation helps sustainably maintain a comfortable indoor environment, reducing the need for wasteful and costly heating and cooling systems (Brady 2014). Figure 6 shows the vertically-placed active louver system while Figure 7 shows the louver system with details of the materials used.

Figure 6: The operable louver system (Brady 2014)

Figure 7: The louver system with details of materials used (Brady 2014)

3.2 Integrated sustainability technologies

The following are the major sustainability technologies implemented in the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre (Gollings & Chung 2010; Mackenzie 2010; Meinhold 2010):

  • Green roof:to increase thermal mass and reduce heat gain to the center. Natural grasses planted on the rooftop helps decrease energy loss by insulating the building envelope. More specifically, the green roof helps in cooling and insulating the building during summer and winter respectively, which contribute to a healthy indoor environment and energy savings.
  • Labyrinth: to passively filter and tamper the air. 
  • Rainwater storage tank: to collect, treat, and supply water closets and irrigate the landscape, atrium plants, and the lawn on the Collins Street Reserve. All the tap fixtures are optimized for touch sensitivity to minimize potential leakages and wastage.
  • Fan coil systems: to trim fresh air and satisfy the building’s cooling and heating requirements.
  • PV panels: to offset grid electricity demands and shade the roof.
  • Bio-filter: plants and bio-mass absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen to passively filtrate and remove air pollutants.
  • Underground geothermal heat exchanger: to transfer energy drawn from the ‘earth to the building’ and passively tamper incoming atmospheric air to the bio-filter.
  • The environmental atrium: it combines the facility’s integrated ‘respiratory system’ with the main façade, imitating organic and biological models. This way, the building has an ‘external skin’, a ‘structural’ skeleton, and integrated conduits for transferring energy and oxygen. In addition, the conduits propagate information throughout existing nodes while leveraging solar power, rainwater, heat drawn from the earth, and oxygen generated through photosynthesis as part of sustainability efforts.
  • Sensors to control lighting by automatically turning off the lights when nobody is around and vice versa.  

Figure 8 shows the major sustainability technologies used in the building.

Figure 8: The major sustainability technologies (Brady 2014)

These integrated sustainability initiatives drive the following major benefits (Mackenzie 2010):

  • Improved energy conservation: the passive, active, and hybrid systems of bio-filters, labyrinth, PV panels, rainwater harvesting, storage, and recycling, and geothermal energy helps minimize reliance on grid power, gas, and water  thus facilitating greater energy savings.
  • Better psychological wellbeing in relation to users/occupants as they can see what is happening within the facility even when they are outside the center. Psychological benefits are further fuelled by the properly ventilated internal environment using an air quality system based on a unique bio-filtration mechanism.
  • Considerable space savings because of optimal arrangement of several multifunctional systems, which helped address the problem of a constrained site.
    • Automated building management and control system (BMS)

A computerized BMS is implemented to automate the process of monitoring and controlling the center’s internal environmental conditions in addition to adjusting the cooling, ventilation, and sunshade louver systems throughout the day. This way, the BMS controls lighting and shading as well as heat load. Moreover, the BMS monitors and logs water and electrical systems to detect potential faults and optimize the building’s environmental efficiency (Gollings & Chung 2010).

3.4 Climate adaptive building shell (CABS)

CABS refers to a construction engineering concept where facades and roofing structures dynamically relate with changes in environmental conditions (Loonen et al. 2013). The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre adopts such a dynamic building envelope that change with variability in weather and occupant needs. This contributes to considerable energy savings (lighting, heating and cooling, and ventilation) and improved quality of indoor environment with respect to the center (Brady 2014).

The eastern elevation is made of operable timber-faced louvers in that they act in response to the sun ‘movement’.  This elevation provides glances of occupation through the series of timber-faced panels designed to automatically swing throughout the day to animate the streetscape. In addition, the approach leads to improved air circulation and inflow of daylight (Gollings & Chung 2010).  Light fixtures at the eastern elevation deliver sufficient natural lighting throughout the facility along with properly controlled daylight (Brady 2014). Another aspect of CABS is the automated open space sun shading system at the childcare open space (Nyren 2011).

3.5 The suspended U-shaped timber form

The ‘U’ timber form is designed to embrace the prismatic glass atrium. The form orients in the southern direction and the converted modest park. Automatic louver systems constitute the major material that make up the solid components of the timber form, which filters and controls sunlight and the general view (Gollings & Chung 2010). Suspending the timber form above the ground facilitates accessibility and transparency. Figure 9 shows the ‘U’ timber form.

Figure 9: The ‘U’ timber form (Gollings & Chung 2010)

3.6 The transitional foyer space

The foyer space represents a lower intermediary form designed to mediate the center’s scale against adjacent buildings while at the same time creating a transparent and inviting entry. The lifted cloud-like roofing profiles draws sunlight into the foyer space and spread out the street to signify the main entrance (Gollings & Chung 2010). A unique spiraling staircase contributes to the architectural elegance of the internal design. The spiral stair creates different spatial zones for linking and contrasting the three upper horizontal levels. The spiral staircase is shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10: The spiral staircase (Gollings & Chung 2010)

3.7 The environmental atrium

Perhaps the atrium built on the southern facade is the most spectacular feature of the center. The facade is transparent to encourage passersby to visit the building. The glass is accompanied by paintings to hide the indoor and outdoor boundary, which extends the buildings into the ‘Collins Street’ courtyard. It forms an integral element of the very innovative external air intake, processing, and supply system. This is because the atrium has triangulated internal cavities or arteries where a selection of plants filters the air in a technique known as biomimicry (Mackenzie 2010).

As a result, the system delivers oxygen concentrations in the range of 22% to the library. Most buildings have concentrations of 12-15%, thus the atrium-based system provides outstanding levels of air quality. Other than sustainability benefits, the atrium create a visually appealing and healthy space for prolonged reading and kids playing (Brady 2014). Figure 11 shows the atrium structure and some of the specially chosen plants.

Figure 11: The atrium (Brady 2014)

The innovative glazed wall employed on the southern façade covers the entire above-ground levels. At the top, the wall has triangulated chimneys that draw air using different bio-filtering and conditioning techniques, while at the same time revealing the center’s stratified section (Hardning 2010). The atrium is symbolic of the building as it identifies the public center and place (Brady 2014).  Figure 12 shows the atrium section.

Figure 12: The atrium section (Brady 2014)

4.0 Construction materials and innovative construction techniques employed

4.1 Construction materials

Facades are made from precast concrete, pre-fabricated steel and alpolic metal composite panels, and Prodema’s highly resistant natural wooden panels. Prodema is PEFC accredited, which assures that its products are made from environmentally and socially managed forest materials. Therefore, the building stands a better chance to meet green construction certification requirements such as the ECOdesign ISO 14006, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM). The wooden louvers evident at the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre perfectly complement the building’s ventilated facades. They cover surfaces such as glass spaces and help control sunlight and energy consumption in the facility.

Precast concrete and pebblecrete are used for flooring and footways. Tailor made pebblecrete are used to create a compelling and lasting impression. PEFC certified Victorian timber veneers are also used for flooring. These are hardwood veneers hand-selected manufactured from sustainably controlled forests. In addition, terrazzo Australian marble and cement are precast and used for flooring to help bolster lasting beauty, maintainability, uniqueness, and durability. Functional and environmentally responsible hardwood with a rich color spectrum is used for floor covering.

Walls are made from a combination of precast concrete. Timber veneers and acroma coatings are also used, but for interior walls and ceilings. Acroma coatings are especially useful for finishes as they come with low VOC, low odor, and unparalleled attractiveness as they are smooth and come in many colors. Therefore, the coating materials used help bolster the users’ health by assuring indoor air quality. Internal walls are also made from sliced decorative veneers, rock maple, and tiles.

The building has finely executed concrete finishes, polyurethane joinery (white), stone tiles, and high-quality carpet. Locals feared that the high-quality finishes would be quickly damaged (Hardning 2010). However, the architects were able to include the finely designed finishes in a way that befitted the center’s public importance.

4.2 Innovative construction techniques employed

4.2.1 Sustainability design initiatives

This project establishes a new standard of environmental sustainability excellence in Australian civic buildings by integrating several ESD innovations into public architecture. The center includes several environmentally sustainable design (ESD) initiatives, for example, rainwater harvesting and recycling, geothermal cooling bores, automated fabric shading, PV arrays, thermal labyrinth, green roofing, solar array, sun-tracking timber-based louvers, and bio-filtration atrium (ALTUS PAGE KIRKLAND n.d.).

The tapered prismatic glass atrium is one of the innovative systems included to meet the project’s ambitious environmental sustainability objectives. The atrium’s chain of triangular airshafts collects atmospheric air and cools it passively. Natural sunlight is also filtered through the glass layers into the center’s interiors (Gollings & Chung 2010). Figure 13 shows the prismatic glass atrium.

Figure 13: The prismatic glass atrium that implements the transparent façade (Gollings & Chung 2010).

A fundamental objective of the project was assuring optimal air quality to occupants since they require adequate alertness levels to facilitate learning and children using the childcare facilities assured of a healthy playing space.  To meet the air quality goal, the center has an innovative system for growing its ‘own’ fresh air using the natural filtering potential of plants among other passive and organic functions. Outside air drawn in from the top of the environmental atrium is passed through a special collection of plants, a process where the double skin façade serves as the cavity for directing the air towards the bio-filter. These plants act as passive filters, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen for increased oxygen levels. The plants and the bedding biomass also remove air contaminants to improve air quality. Then, the air flows through gabions placed under the facility where the thermal labyrinth heats and cools it. Finally, the bio-filtered and cooled air passes throughout the four floors of the center and then flows out of the building as relief air. Fan coil units play the role of trimming fresh air towards satisfying the building’s heating and cooling requirements (City of Sydney 2016; Gollings & Chung 2010; Mackenzie 2010). The process of growing ‘own’ fresh air and the supply air path is represented in Figure 14.

Figure 14: Intake air and supply air paths (Gollings & Chung 2010)

The biomimicry technique is summarized in Figure 15.

Figure 15: Biomimicry (Brady 2014)

The following are some of the major innovative design strategies regarding the external air intake and fresh air supply process (Mackenzie 2010):

  • The outside air intake point is located above the street level to minimize the challenge of contaminants from passersby and traffic from the three immediate streets.
  • The orientation of the air intake is the North/East direction to leverage the inherent thrust of the wind and overcome potential resistance that could otherwise require mechanical systems.
  • The fans used to drive further air filtration and bolster air supply rely on electricity, thus the PV panels and geothermal pumps help reduce the grid power requirement.
  • Plant equipment is cooled using the externally collected air as opposed to water.

The selection of building materials was based on their sustainability and durability. The building is constructed from a ‘post-tensioning structural system’ that minimizes the amount of concrete needed for structural support and/or framing. PVC alternatives were used for electrical and plumbing services to prevent potential release of harmful pollutants through offgassing (Brady 2014). The center’s finishes contain products made from materials with insignificant harm to the environment, with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) dominating the selection list. The timber components used in various parts of the building are sourced from sustainable trees (City of Sydney 2016).

4.2.2 Transparency as an architectural theme

The building has a shinny glass skin supported by a glass structure to form a transparent stopper. Other than playing the role of sustainability, the prismatic glass atrium drives a sense of multi-layered transparency architectural theme. Glass prisms are incorporated in series to further implement an open and transparent façade towards making various activities at the facility adequately visible and encouraging participation. The center’s social and ethical diversity is sensationally revealed from the southern edge of the Collins Street closure that was converted to an ordinary park for use by the public. This implies that people using the park can see the functions of the centre through the glass prism façade. The space extends the function of the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre and reasserts the building as a truly public place. The ‘U’ form is suspended above the ground, which further enhances accessibility and transparency (Gollings & Chung 2010).

As such, the building is designed to be overly transparent in that it exposes most of the things it accommodates within. This allows a friendly, inviting, and welcoming facility open to the public and truly accessible by all. The transparency theme also represents and embodies the community’s values and draw aspiration (Gollings & Chung 2010). 

5.0 A critical evaluation of the building

5.1 Structure and construction

The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre is a four-floor building. The floor plans adopted were informed by two major factors – how to site constraints and the best combination and diversification strategy regarding facility offerings.  Basically, the site is a small, constrained area bound by the Crown Street, Norton Street, and Collins Street. Floor plans are executed in a manner that fully exploits the compact and street-bound ’25 by 28’ meters site, and drive large impact despite the small scale of the site and the building.  Moreover, all these facilities are provided in a single building and place. The Collins Street close was redeveloped into a public park, which helped extend community contribution. Other than the need for maximum site exploitation, program diversity was also upheld. This is because the project is located at the core of Surry Hills, which is one of the major inner-city suburbs of Sydney inhabited by a community of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and incomes. Therefore, the floor plans are designed to host the following major facilities targeting the community: library and specialized learning areas, cafe, childcare, computer laboratory, meeting rooms, kitchens, and conference areas. The floors are also designed in a way that meet the needs and expectations of the diverse user groups – readers, learners, parents, children, and administrators and teachers (Brady 2014; Hardning 2010; Werner 2013).  Figure 16-19 shows the adopted floor plans together with facilities provided at each floor.

Figure 16-19: Lower ground floor (Hardning 2010)

Figure 17-19: Ground floor (Hardning 2010)

Figure 18-19: Level one (Hardning 2010)

Figure 19-19 Level two (Hardning 2010)

The main structure entails a pre-stressed concrete system and it is shown in Figure 20. The main frame remains unexposed except off-form concrete columns. The building adopts a disciplined and straightforward floor plan right from the footing and basement to the upper-most floor. This way, the building requires simple structural elements and transfer beams.

Figure 20: Structural analysis (Brady 2014)

The following are the three major elements present in the building: the environmental atrium, the U-shaped timber form, and the transitional foyer space. Construction materials and forms are highly sustainable, simple, and consistent to exhaustive scale. The combination and quantity of materials and components used for the building provides structural strength and aesthetics among other performance metrics such as sustainability (Blundell 2009).  The structure, systems, materials, and finishes (wooden and metallic) are finely considered to improve the facility’s structural performance. The interior design emphasizes the sense of openness and welcoming spaces due to strong transparency facilitated by initiatives such as the glass atrium and a series of active timber-based louvers that control daylight entry (Hardning 2010).

The building is a success from a structural, architectural, and sustainability perspective, which enabled it to win the Winner for Excellence in Construction Award – Public Buildings (2009) (Thorp 2013). Site size and location restrictions required a finely considered floor plan. The floor plans are relatively very tight but they provide the desired results in terms of facility utility and aesthetics.  This creates an opportunity for users to enjoy close relationships and interactions with each other. The proportional design components of the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre make the building to stand out in the inner-city town of Sydney – Surry Hills (Werner 2013).

5.2 Environmental strategy

The project was steered with a clear and strong symbol of the City’s brand of sustainability in its civic or public undertakings. The architects integrated the center’s custom-made elements with architectural characteristics to meet their target environmental function and contribute holistically to the urban character. In terms of performance, monitoring the building’s systems has demonstrated oxygen concentrations in the excess of 5% than average (Hardning 2010). This is a reasonably incredible result, but the whole value of this performance outcome can only be justified if sustained in the long-term. In fact, this has seen the center win a number of awards due to its sustainability excellence, for example, the National Award for Sustainable Architecture by the Australian Institute of Architects, Australian Timber Design Awards Public Building High Commendation, and the UDIA Excellence in Sustainable Design Award (Thorp 2013).

The building’s integrated ESD system has helped grow ‘own’ fresh air using specially chosen plans, biomass beds, environmental atrium, fans, and labyrinth as key elements. Air is cooled naturally under the facility, which reduces the cooling and ventilation requirements by close to 50% (City of Sydney 2016).

The rainwater collection, treatment, and storage tank has played an integral role in water conservation at the center. Recycling is also optimized for better utilization of water for flushing toilets and watering the environmental atrium plants, and the lawn. The rainwater system drives water savings in the excess of 620,000 liters (City of Sydney 2016).

The wellbeing of users and/or occupants was the fundamental focus of the center. The constrained construction site forced the design team to devise innovative strategies to utilize available space and meet the complex utility and user requirements. Passive, multifunctional, and hybrid systems were used in addition to experimenting with natural organisms to meet strict environmental sustainability requirements. Therefore, the building integrates a collection of systems that draw inspiration for bio-systems and other elements to enhance the external and internal environments and consequently user/occupant physiology (Mackenzie 2010).

5.3 Economy

The center cost approximately AU$13.8 million to build. The internal degree of finish is not extravagant as reported by some opponents who claim that the center has a lavish curtain (Hardning 2010).  ALTUS PAGE KIRKLAND, a project management company values the project at AU$19 million. The construction project was delivered under budget (ALTUS PAGE KIRKLAND n.d.). With a cost of approximately AU$240 per square foot primarily directed towards sustainability issues, the budget of the project may be considered justifiable ().

The building is very modern and ornate though it was delivered as an iconic architectural product that leverages multiple ESD initiatives to minimize energy and cost wastages, enhance indoor air quality, and promote improved occupant experiences when using the facility.  At the same time, the building does not put considerable pressure on the immediate Sydney’s environment since it is associated with zero greenhouse gas emissions (Thorp 2013).

In the global context, local, state, and national governments are putting a lot of effort to defeat climate change and its consequences. Green or sustainable construction plays a key role in tackling climate change by minimizing overdependence on grid power in favor or renewal sources of energy, promoting energy savings through techniques such as maximized day lighting, and increasing thermal insulation to reduce the energy consumed by buildings (Blundell 2009). Such sustainable initiatives have seen the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre minimize cooling and ventilation requirements by approximately 50% and water savings by close to 620,000 liters (City of Sydney 2016).

5.4 Occupant amenity

The lower ground floor (basement) hosts the main library, history study room, IT and internet access computer lab, and magazine and newspaper reading area. The ground floor also provides a number of library collections, loans desk, and children space. The lower ground floor and the ground floor contain a diverse collection of close to 30,000 items and several public PCs. The level one (or first) floor hosts a lobby area and a series of kitchens and community rooms that alternately engage.  Local businesses may rent the community rooms to host meetings for up to 125 people (Gollings & Chung 2010). In addition, computer, language, and cooking classes may be held in the function room and kitchens. The kitchens are also used to stream cooking classes to various centers via the internet. Half of the level two (or second) provides a series of miniature handprints and impressions in addition to scattered furniture as a sign of the childcare space. This space can accommodate 26 children. This part of the level two floor also provides a secure lobby, bathrooms, staff room, and heat and serve kitchen. The other half is an open-air playing space complete with fastidious details of sandpit, patterned soft-fall area, and automatic shade roofing to support kid activities (Gollings & Chung 2010; Hardning 2010). The center’s amenities are provided in highly oxygenated, healthy, appealing, transparent, and accessible spaces (Thorp 2013).

5.5 Construction best practice

5.5.1 Focus on early and comprehensive planning

The Surry Hills Library and Community Centre construction project was adequately planned during the early stages, which helped achieve accurate cost and time estimates. Consequently, the project was completed within the stipulated time and budget (ALTUS PAGE KIRKLAND n.d.). The performance in terms of timeline and budget estimates can be considered excellent since most public construction projects suffer extensive delays and cost overruns. Considerable time and budget overruns may inhibit the value associated with a project (Aliverdi, Naeni & Salehipour 2013).

5.5.2 Value management and community involvement

In addition, the project scope and quality were sufficiently upheld because of early consultations and planning. The active and vocal local community was involved in close consultations during the project brief development process. These discussions helped understand what the community wanted, a building that everybody could share as opposed to a mere library, community, and childcare facility. It also informed the decision to integrate these facilities into a single building and place. This led to a flawless handover to the client and the user community – City of Sydney Council and the public respectively. Moreover, the facility was delivered as a really shared place suitable for the entire community to visit and use in a variety of ways. Also important is the fact that the building represented and reflected the local community’s values, a key enabler of acceptance (Gollings & Chung 2010). This way, the local community has strongly embraced the center since it was opened. It has become an inviting public place for people from all social and age groups since it offers facilities that symbolize the values of accessibility, transparency, and equity in relation to information and other resources critical to community empowerment. 

5.5.3 Focus on sustainability

Sustainability is a key consideration in the construction industry particularly because of the undeniable risk facing the world today – resource scarcity, climate change, and environmental degradation (Hardning 2010). A considerable part of the construction budget was channeled into sustainability, one of the main construction best practices today. All the architectural finishes are made of materials with low levels of VOC and toxicity, which compliments the process of growing ‘own’ fresh air and supplying it throughout the building. Additionally, there is extensive use of specially sourced timber to further facilitate sustainability. Sustainability is important in construction projects intended for public or community use (Mackenzie 2010).

5.5.3 Application of public building design principles

5.5.3.1 Diversity

The building is optimized for use by multiple user groups (readers and learners, parents and children, and administrators and teachers) and pragmatic and artistic contributions (use of minimal resources and thoughtful materiality). The design is inspiring and innovative and has comfortable interiors to be appealing to all age and cultural groups and subsequently promote everyday usage.

5.5.3.2 Transparency

The center is designed to be highly accessibility and revealing – viewing in and out in addition to contained indoor and outdoor spaces.

5.5.3.3 Sustainability

There is an integrated sustainability system comprising active facades (louvers), PV panels, BMS, day lighting, geothermal power, bio-filtering plants, passive air cooling and ventilation system, labyrinth, and atrium among other elements.

5.5.3.4 Monumentality

The following major initiatives are taken to achieve monumentality, which is critical in public architecture:

  • Unique composition of key building features: the orienting ‘U’ timber form, mediating lobby foyer, and the transparent glass atrium.
  • Small-scale building but with huge impact.
  • Extended public/civic function by constructing the public park at Collins Street edge.

6.0 Conclusion

Evidently, the Surry Hills Library and Community Centre reasserts the Sydney’s City Council practice of open expression of public architecture. It incorporates a wide array of architectural elements to form iconic building in Sydney. The site context can be summarized by diverse commercial and residential mix in addition to a predominant Victorian architectural style. The center represents one of the most valuable and exciting facilities to Sydney residents since it provides highly accessible and diverse library, community, kitchen, reading, and childcare services all in a single building and place. It embodies and reflects the community values, while upholding immense transparency to attract and welcome the public. There is also a modest park for the public that extends the center’s community service function. Therefore, the building performs optimally in terms of supporting the diverse needs of all Sydney residents in addition to structural resilience.

The building implements a number of sustainability initiatives that leverage an integrated ESD system that comprises of timber active and passive technologies. The air filtration, tempering, and supply system is analogous to the human respiratory system. Air from the streets is drawn into the atrium, passively filtered through bio-filtration, conditioned using the labyrinth, and supplied throughout the building. Other than this, there is the rainwater conservation system, PV panels and geothermal pores, low VOC materials, BMS, and automated louvers and shading, and sensors to automate the process the process of turning lights off and on. These initiatives helps create a healthy indoor environment because of improved air quality. In addition, the building drives high energy savings and low greenhouse gas emissions. Further studies are necessary to further quantify the sustainability benefits, especially indoor air quality and associated health implications.

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