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Building on the western plains supports start-ups

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Rising from Melbourne’s western grasslands is a startling building that is accelerating success.

Designed by Six Degrees, the Western Business Accelerator and Centre for Excellence (BACE), in the City of Melton, could contain anything. In a manner fitting to its unusual exterior, it’s home to creative start-ups.

The Western Business Accelerator and Centre for Excellence was designed by Six Degrees and features a variety of facilities. The Western Business Accelerator and Centre for Excellence was designed by Six Degrees and features a variety of facilities. Photo: Alice Hutchison

A recipient of a sustainable award from the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter), its strength lies not only in its aesthetics, but as importantly, in its 6-Star Green Star rating.

“We worked closely with the company Sustainable Built Environment from the start of the project, rather than bringing in sustainable specialists after plans had been approved,” says architect Peter Malatt, a director of Six Degrees.

Before working up schemes, Malatt and his colleagues visited a number of centres across Melbourne.

“One of the main issues facing the City of Melton is that it’s one of the highest residential growth areas, but has the lowest employment growth.

“Many people have to commute to their place of employment,” says Malatt, who saw the opportunity to create self-contained spaces for local start-up businesses and a resource for local residents.

Within the steel, glass, concrete and COR-TEN steel buildings is a variety of facilities. As well as areas designated for training, Six Degrees included enclosed meeting rooms and a cafe that’s open to the wider public.

To offset the cost of providing subsidised studios for start-up businesses, the architects also included room for established corporate tenancies.

“The structure or approach is one of mentoring, seeing those with years of experience helping to get new businesses off the ground, some of which are in the digital arena,” says Malatt.

From the start of the design process, Six Degrees was conscious of using local materials.

The precast concrete panels, for example, were sourced from over the road, from Westcon.

A cooling system, integrated into the concrete floor, allows cool air to be easily dispersed during the warmer months of the year.

The concrete floors act as a heat bank during the colder periods of the year. Perforated steel awnings diffuse the northern light on both of the two northern elevations of the interconnected building and recycled plywood features strongly in the interior fit-out.

Pivotal to the design is a central light core, with its translucent polycarbonate and timber-battened roof.

“Our preliminary studies showed there was a need for individually lettable space, which could be locked up,” says Malatt.

“They also had to be well sealed, particularly on an acoustic level.”

As a consequence, Six Degrees included smaller studios for the start-up businesses within the main building, varying in size from 18 to 22 square metres.

Those businesses, such as joinery workshops, requiring larger spaces and generally creating greater noise, are located in a separate freestanding building and occupy larger footprints (about 150 square metres including a mezzanine) a stone’s throw away.

Using local tradespeople, as well as sourcing many materials nearby, allowed the architects to design and build the 3300 square metres of floor area within 18 months.

“We were fortunate to be working on essentially a vacant site that was once farming land. The only heritage overlay was retaining the heritage-listed dry stone wall that goes back to the days of early settlement,” says Malatt.

Start-up businesses are beginning to occupy the Western BACE, as are established businesses, keen to eliminate commuting times for their staff, many of whom live in the area.

“It’s an important growth area of Melbourne, with this business incubator being an important catalyst,” adds Malatt.

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