Melbourne’s Federation Square has certainly enjoyed its share of controversy.
From the choice of the original design, to a decision (since overturned) allowing an epic Apple store to besmirch the Square’s striking lines, the cultural and media precinct has been a talking point.
Essentially a community gathering place, Federation Square encompasses broad open cobbled areas, an art gallery, shops, bars, restaurants, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), and the Melbourne operation of SBS.
What many people do not know, however, is that it has sustainability at its heart. Beneath the coruscating and jagged panes of the Atrium lies a “decoupled thermal mass design” – a thermal labyrinth, in other words.
“Decoupled thermal mass storage” is a term used to describe the ability of a material to absorb or store heat outside a building, releasing it when required. Labyrinth systems consist of a maze built from materials with a high thermal mass, such as concrete, which use air to transfer the thermal storage capacity of the labyrinth to the building.
“Unlike many environmentally sustainable design (ESD) projects that go out of their way to paint wind turbines on the roof yellow – to call attention to their supposed ESD credentials – the systems at Federation Square are all about being integrated and embedded in the design and the architecture,” says Donald Bates, whose firm LAB Architecture Studio designed Federation Square in collaboration with Bates Smart.
In the middle of the site is a 40m x 40m 1.4km long labyrinth that provides structural support to the plaza, cooling to the Atrium, and pre-chilled air to the mechanical systems for other onsite buildings.
The labyrinth has been designed by Atelier Ten consultants to achieve up to 12°C cooling of external ambient air in summer, and 7°C heating in winter.
In summer, the labyrinth is cooled by night air coming off the Yarra River. Air is moved through the labyrinth, cooling down the 3m high corrugated pre-cast concrete walls to the lowest night-time temperature. During the day, warm ambient air is ventilated into the labyrinth and is cooled as it comes in contact with the chilled walls. This air is then distributed into the Atrium. Warmer air in the Atrium is displaced and evacuated through vents in the ceiling.
Federation Square’s heating and cooling scheme also includes a central cogeneration plant with absorption chillers for efficient power generation. Plant is located away from the buildings to simplify maintenance.
While there’s much to explore at the Square as a central meeting point for the city of Melbourne, the journey behind its facade offers exciting depth, considerations, and success in ESD.
For more on Fed Square, you can read through some of our previous features in Ecolibrium (July 2013) and HVAC&R Nation (November 2014).