Integrated Design – Emergency Response Facilities (Research Summary)

Integrated Design of Emergency Response Facilities

The following text base surmises the findings of work in the Integrated Design Studios on emergency response facilities. Ambulance Victoria (and the design of ambulance stations was used as a case study). The following text surmising the research work done was provided as the basis for a magazine article and was published in the October edition of Ecolibrium.

Final article published October 2022 edition of Ecolibrium:

Coordinating Authors
Brendon McNiven (University of Melbourne)
Lu Aye (University of Melbourne)
Dominik Holzer (University of Melbourne)
Studio/Article Contributors:
Catherine O’Shea (Ambulance Victoria)
Sally Mangan (Ambulance Victoria)
Gumji Kang (UoM Studio Leader)
Georgina James (UoM)
David Ritter (Atelier Ten)
Priya Gandhi (Atelier Ten)
Kate Nason (Atelier Ten)
Ed Ewers (Ed Ewers Architecture)

Emergency: Building Net Zero capability in Ambulance Response Stations

Ambulance Victoria maintains over 300 facilities across Victoria servicing an area of more than 227,000 square kilometres.  Their top priority is the health and care of the more than 5.8 million Victorians who rely on the service in times of personal emergency.  As a community based institution they are also highly motivated to care for the environment in which they operate, this includes the energy and carbon impacts of their operations.  Like many other government organisations, and in line with the Victorian Climate Change Act (2017), they are targeting zero-net carbon as an organisation by 2045.

A key part of the road map to achieve this is improving the performance of the ambulance stations out of which they operate.  In 2021 Ambulance Victoria approached AIRAH and i-Hub (the Innovation Hub for Affordable Heating and Cooling) for assistance in studying how this might best be achieved.  With the assistance of masters level architectural and engineering students from The University of Melbourne, selected consultants from industry, university academics, and Ambulance Victoria staff, the challenge of designing net zero emergency response stations was undertaken.

The study took place as a part of the integrated design studios (IDS’s) being carried out under the i-Hub.  The studios explore how to better marry architecture and engineering to deliver building outcomes that exceed what each discipline would have been able to deliver on their own, to provide exceptional technical performance at the same time as superior architectural amenity.

The basis of integrated design is to involve all stakeholders in the design from the outset.  Designs come from a holistic basis of not only servicing primary response functions, but also of being socially responsible, looking after the wellbeing of the paramedics being sent out onto the road, and serving ancillary functions such as community gardens or providing safe places of refuge for the community in times of need.

Environmental Resilience Conceptualisation

Readily Achievable Solutions

The body of work produced demonstrated that cumulative savings of up to 50% in operational energy compared to business as usual could be achieved.  Building from this lower demand base, the study went on to show the potential energy able to be generated through the use of on-site renewables (i.e. photovoltaics), was significantly more than the building uses on an annual basis, thus achieving net zero operational carbon impact.

The technologies and systems proposed were taken from tried and tested solutions in Australia able to be readily adopted for this scale of project. The key systems offering greatest benefit are:

  • Optimised Passive Solar principles for winter heating and summer control.
  • High-performance building fabric through enhanced U- values of the building fabric.
  • Reduction in thermal bridging and airtightness construction quality assurance.
  • Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery providing energy savings in addition to indoor environmental quality and health benefits.
  • Photovoltaic panels were consistently applied across projects for on-site renewable energy generation.
Student Design Render, Kertina Liu.

Enhanced Life-Cycle Benefits

Calculations on the energy and running cost savings showed that all of the technologies identified above yield a net beneficial economic payback over the life of the asset providing a compelling business case for their incorporation into future station designs.

Enhanced Health Outcomes

In addition to the financial business case, the measures also offer health and wellness benefits that are a significant value-add to end-users of the ambulance station. Good daylighting in spaces, access to the sun, thermal comfort and well-designed ventilation systems are key indoor environmental amenity outcomes that benefit through staff well-being and reduced sickness rates. Whilst natural ventilation is applicable for a large part of the year on most sites, the use of heat recovery ventilation in winter is of particular note as a means of achieving healthy internal air quality and minimising energy use.

As well as learnings on appropriate net zero design technologies, Ambulance Victoria raised their own internal capability and understanding of what is involved in delivering sustainability buildings.  The learnings gained enable them to speak out as an organisation and have more influence in the design of the facilities out of which they operate.

Student Design Section, Jesse Anderson

The Future

The net zero future is bright for Ambulance Victoria. The organisation has already taken the lessons learned in the integrated design studio and used them to inform internal policy around the development of future stations moving forward.  The first of these will be a new net zero prototype station currently under planning for Mallacoota. On this build it hopes to explore volumetric modular design to harness quality and thermal performance. Further energy challenges no doubt await as it begins a transition to zero emission vehicles.

Atelier Ten Energy study showing energy freduction measures in blue (savings through better design), and generation in green. Data shows net zero ambulance stations are feasible with known technologies.

Project Partners: Clients: Active Community Group, Bolton Clarke, Lendlease.

Architects: Cox Architects, Place Design

Engineers/Contractors: Arup, Atelier 10, Built Environment Collective, Hansen Yuncken, JHA Consulting, MI Engineers, Norman Disney & Young, Stantec Australia, WSP

(opens pdf in new tab)

The full report including learnings on how to facilitate integrated design as well as technical findings on the potential for sustainable data centres is located here:

University of Melbourne Researchers

  • Dominik Holzer (Senior Lecturer, MSD)
  • Brendon McNiven (Enterprise Professor, MSD)
  • Lu Aye (Professor, MSE)

We would be happy to take comments, field queries or provide further information. Please contact with any requests.

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