Sunlight is a fundamental building material.
Natural light helps determine the atmosphere, behavior, and movement within interior spaces, and offers sustainable solutions as a source of solar energy and seasonal heat. Poorly managed, however, sunlight can become problematic – an unsheltered building may invite blinding glare and overwhelming interior heating. In creating our new Education Precinct Building at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, we faced the challenge of designing a new learning space that maintained a comfortable indoor climate under the intense Australian sun.
At the height of summer, solar heat along Australia’s eastern coast can prove formidable. Brisbane’s subtropical climate makes for an average of 30 degrees in the warmer months, boosted by a high relative humidity. Sitting on an east-facing hill, the project site is susceptible to direct solar heating from the rising sun, pushing harsh glare and uncomfortable heat into the building. For Martin Vraa Nielsen, Lead Sustainability Engineer with Henning Larsen, these region-specific challenges required tailored solutions.
“The whole equilibrium between preserving daylight and preventing overheating shifts in this part of the world. Being Henning Larsen, we bring a higher focus on natural daylight, but for this project, we had to be more aware of glare and overheating than is usually necessary for Denmark,” Nielsen said.
Viewed from above, the building takes on a terraced form that hugs the curve of Ring Road as it bends from north to west. This varied depth allows the building to shade itself, as the north-facing steppes exposed to afternoon sun block radiation cast shadows on those behind them. The cantilevered upper floors provide cooling shade for the broad glass façade of the ground level atrium, preventing solar overheating while preserving access to natural daylight.
On the upper floors, intended for semi-private working and learning spaces, angled aluminum louvers reduce glare from the eastern sun while preserving a view of the Brisbane harbor and business district. Forming a visual parallel with the serrated rock faces of the nearby Glass House Mountains, the building borrows from the Australian landscape for a more comfortable existence in the local climate. According to Martin Nielsen, the building’s sun shading measures reduce its solar heating intake by 40 percent.
“Compared to Denmark, the sun still rises in the east, but then it moves north in the sky – So we angled the exterior panels slightly toward the south, which increases the shading effect during the early part of the day, but preserves the favorable views and gentler daylight from the south,” Nielsen said.
Allowing ample natural light within the new QUT Education Precinct Building supports a brighter, more comfortable learning environment. The design circumvents a reliance on fluorescent lighting and prevents harsh solar glare, drawing from environmental research and organic inspiration to establish an appealing space on campus for socialization, collaboration, and scholarship.