Cox Architecture was established in Sydney in 1962. From the beginning, it can be seen that their priority is the environment, creating sustainable buildings, and spreading the ideas. Their understanding of sustainable buildings showed itself with these approaches; depth knowledge about the site and its surroundings, passive design, and use of long-lasting locally sourced materials. Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) is one of the many projects they have completed with this mission. The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre is an evidence-based prototype of a sustainable building that also serves as a research centre for itself.  

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Cover Image_©John Gollings

University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC)

Architect: Cox Architecture
Year: 2014
Location: Wollongong, Australia
Area: 2600 m2

The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) is a multidisciplinary organisation that brings together a wide range of researchers to address the challenges of making our buildings sustainable and effective places where we live and work. The mission of the SBRC is to support the rapid decarbonization of our built environment.

It was decided that the SBRC building, as the home of a sustainable buildings research centre, would go far beyond current Australian sustainability standards for educational and other facilities. The vision was that in a few years or decades, the occupants, visitors, and the wider community would be able to look back and know that the design of the SBRC had pushed the boundaries of what was possible at the time of its design and that this project represented a significant step forward in the delivery of highly sustainable buildings. With these aims, the Cox Architecture team collaborated with UoW and Living Building Challenge to create a structure worthy of these mottos. 

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Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC)_©Richard Glover

Knowledge About Site 

Cox Architecture’s primary approach to sustainable building starts with getting deep knowledge about the site. The selected site for the SBRC building was at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus, which consisted of low-grade fill from surrounding mining operations in the region and was generally unproductive, with landscape cover primarily composed of native and exotic weeds. Even though this background can set a limit for growth, Cox Architecture’s lead set urban agricultural areas for production and student experience. The plant palette for the urban agriculture areas is decided from the local sources, what indigenous people grow in their gardens for food, medicine, etc. 

The SBRC gardens consist of 5 raised beds made from recycled bricks, five raised beds made from corrugated metal barrels, a vegetable bed on the green roof, and basic planting of fruit trees/vines and herbs in the garden. 

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SBRC gardens_©University of Wollongong

Passive Design

One of the approaches for sustainability that Cox Architecture has carried out is designing passive systems to minimise active use of energy and other sources. Passive design is a key element for sustainable buildings. For SBRC, Cox Architecture has taught about water management and net zero energy consumption and production.  

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SBRC site view_©Matt Estherby

Water Management

The first decision for water management in SBRC is minimising water use. Most of the facility’s water needs to be provided with the captured rainwater. The grey water captured from the rooftops of the buildings is being collected in properly sized tanks. Collected rainwater goes through filtration without chemicals and is distributed to the showers, PV washings, hand basins, laboratories, and toilet flushes. 

The second approach of Cox Architecture’s water management is the general water flow. One of the essential things about circular, sustainable building is the remainder of what is used. Wastewater management is not what we usually see in a so-called sustainable building. To reach net zero water management, Cox Architecture has thought about this issue too. The approach is going with the natural process. All water sent to drains goes through the blackwater treating plant, and after the operation, the clean water is used to irrigate the garden. Design decisions about landscape also came from providing the stormwater runoff. Hardscapes have been minimised around the building to reach the natural water absorption process.

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SBRC connection with natural landscape_©John Gollings

Energy Management

Energy concern was one of the main challenges of the SBRC. From the construction to the life of the user has been thought to reach net zero energy. The building is created to sustain itself with the gained energy. A total of 600 PV panels have been used to gain enough power. A unique PVT system has been designed with the BlueScope team, and this system also contributes to the SBRC as an archive for a sustainable building approach.

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SBRC solar panels_©John Gollings

Material Selection

Selecting long-lasting, locally sourced material is one one the key elements of sustainable buildings for Cox Architecture. In SBRC, which can be taught as an archive and research itself, the material selection was essential to show how to do more with less. For the material selection, the team went to appropriate sourcing for reusable materials, and all sources for the process were local. The idea of dematerialization was a key that every product could do more than one job, and locally reused materials were selected wherever possible. Bridge timbers, steel railway tracks, abandoned telegraph poles, reused bricks, and local timbers can be given as examples of the used materials. The richness of textures from the outside can make the building a material library where it proves the power of what can be done with reused materials.

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SBRC dynamic eaves_©John Gollings
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SBRC interior_©John Gollings

The building itself became a research topic for sustainability, and it is a prototype for such an issue. Cox Architecture defines the structure as dynamic, adaptable, and retrofittable. All design decisions came from the idea of being site-specific and getting the maximum benefit from the surroundings rather than depending on wasteful systems. The orientation also influences the planning of the building. The thin floor plates and suitable orientation provide adequate natural ventilation and sunlight. The form of the building lets sea breezes in, and the eaves provide sun shading during the noon time. The dynamic approach of the building invites people into the building and semi-open social areas. The site is publicly open at all times and lets every curious one experience the natural aura of this education centre.  

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SBRC interior_©John Gollings
SBRC_©University of Wollongong

References List:

  1. COX. (n.d.). Sustainable Buildings Research Centre. [online] Available at:
  2. COX. (n.d.). Practice. [online] Available at:
  3. International Living Future Institute. (n.d.). Sustainable Buildings Research Centre. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Sep. 2022].
  4. Editor, J.G. – (n.d.). Sustainable Buildings Centre. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Sep. 2022].
  5. (n.d.). Research – University of Wollongong – UOW. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Sep. 2022].
  6. (n.d.). University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) | archiroots. [online] Available at:

A graduate student who sees architecture as a way to think critically. Using her architectural background, she aims to draw attention to the ways of existing with the earth, not against earth with her writings. She believes that critical thinking will open different doors to both people and the world.