The 70,000-square-foot Gillies Hall, a student housing residential hall at Monash University in Australia, has been named the nation’s largest Passive House-certified building. The school boasts a population of approximately 4,000 students, the majority of whom are studying subjects like early childhood education, physiotherapy and nursing. Since the building opened, indoor temperatures have hovered between 22 °C (71 °F) and 24 °C (75 °F) throughout the year.

The project was centred around cross-laminated timber (or CLT), which inspired the structure’s interior design. CLT is a variety of prefabricated, solid wood paneling both light and strong, also judged to bear a low environmental impact in building design projects. Aside from supplying enhanced thermal insulation, its fast and easy installation created minimal waste on the worksite.

Simon Topliss, project director for Jackson Clements Burrows Architects, calls CLT a great, low-carbon building solution and a strong, structural product with a warmth that concrete lacks. Nearly 50 percent of the building’s interior walls and the partition walls in every apartment were created with the use of CLT.

Dual wings of apartments stand on every residential floor, with each unit joined by a connective “knuckle,” permitting the integration of the building’s circulation with the communal kitchen, lounge and study. And glazed, open stairs offer outside views connecting to other floors.

In Australia, Passive House projects usually cost 6 to 10 percent extra to build, but use approximately 70 percent less energy than traditional buildings. The region in which Gillies Hall was constructed is hot during the summer season, so a great deal of shading and cross-ventilation methods were put in place to maintain the temperature guidelines of Passive House certification.

The project was finished in 19 months, in time for the 2019 school year. Topliss asserts that the school’s commitment to creating community was a primary focus for the design of the structure. This had to be a place where pupils could socialize, play and study in communion. A single resident adviser is assigned to 30 students, so floor planning was developed around that model.