West Melbourne set to have the nation’s first solar-powered façade office tower

West Melbourne set to have the nation’s first solar-powered façade office tower
Brendan Rees

West Melbourne will be home to Australia’s first-ever office building to have a solar panel façade system under a $40 million project.

The eight-storey building at 550 Spencer St will be powered by 1182 panels in a system that will produce 50 times more energy than a regular rooftop solar system on a house.

Designed by Melbourne architect Pete Kennon, the project is currently being built by Crema Constructions with an expected opening next year.

It will be a fossil-free development with no gas onsite and is expected to save an estimated 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

Once complete, it will be the first building in Australia to have a facade system that harnesses sunlight for energy.

“West Melbourne is perhaps the most prime city fringe suburb underutilised is on the cusp of an urban renewal, so we wanted this building to set the stage for quality and aspiration for the future precinct,” Mr Kennon said.

The breakthrough environment design, which received “overwhelming support” from the City of Melbourne, came about in response to COVID-19. Mr Kennon said workers were choosing where they wanted to work based on the “performance, health aspects and the environment of the workspaces,” adding “new spaces of work have a larger responsibility”.

“The development also includes wellness initiatives to optimise the user experience of its occupants including controlled thermal comfort through natural lighting levels, providing views to the natural environment and natural ventilation in each level,” he said.

“Instead of mimicking an industrial warehouse of the past to belong to a pre-existing language of superseded uses, we have designed a building where its function, purpose and technological benefit is in the future. A building designed for a better future for all of us.

“We want this building to be a symbol of innovation and sustainability of how the built environment can be part of the climate solution.”

“We started discussions with a number of manufacturers soon after learning they didn’t have a presence in Australia. We designed a building facade with the product, and I pitched the concept to the client.”

Mr Kennon had researched glazing products in operation in Europe that embody solar cells within a facade glass screen “that didn’t look like the typical and ugly solar panels you see on rooftops”.

His team then flew the executives of the product out from Germany and “mapped out” the performance from different facade alterations that would work with local glass distributor George Fethers & Co.

“The innovation was an idea presented by the architect; however, it was enabled by banding a group of industry experts together to deliver such a momentous outcome for the future of the built environment.” •


Captions: An artist’s impression of the development at 550 Spencer St.

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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