Designed to be relocatable, this prefab wood building is so nice it's not going anywhere

Macquarie University Incubator
© Brett Boardman via Architectus

Architectus designed the Macquarie University Incubator to be built fast and disassembled quickly.

Many researchers have found that the Biophilia Effect, a preference for natural materials, is significant for our well-being, leading to better learning rates, lower blood pressure, and reduced stress. According to the APA,

The “biophilia effect” describes any of a number of positive impacts experienced when this affinity is evoked through a sensory experience of nature: sight, sound, smell, or feel. With architecture, the biophilia effect spans a broad range of elements that include positive personal responses to daylighting, views of nature, use of patterns, and use of natural materials, such as wood products.

Perhaps that's why this new business incubator building at Australia's Macquarie University designed by Architectus looks like such a lovely place. It has it all: patterns, views, daylighting and of course, our favorite material, wood. According to the architects,

Timber was selected as the main construction material for its capacity to be beautifully engineered, swiftly fabricated to high quality, and for its potential for future dis-assembly and relocation, with the majority of components prefabricated offsite to ensure rapid construction on site and minimal disruption to the concurrent university semester. The resulting building was completed within five months of construction commencing.

It's a lumberyard catalogue of different types of engineered wood, with Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, Victorian Iron Ash Glulam columns and Laminated Veneer beams. There is also spotted gum hardwood and cork for interior surfaces. And the walls: "The prefabricated façade panels are Accoya, LVL, glass and Birch ply installed into Spruce structure that has been faced externally with Accoya for longevity. Façade panels are manufactured to 2mm tolerance."

The architect notes that "these materials allowed us to take an innovative approach to design while offering potential for a very high degree of reuse should the building ever be relocated." But then the building won four prizes at the Australian Timber Design Awards, and according to Sue Williams in Commercial Real Estate, "although it was commissioned mostly for its flexibility and relocation potential, has now become so well loved, the university has said it is not going anywhere."

Architectus principal Luke Johnson tells Sue Williams why he thinks wood is so good for prefab educational buildings:

The use of mass timber products delivers a very high design outcome and the quality, visual appeal and atmosphere of highly engineered, clear finished, treated timber is very warm and supportive of an excellent teaching and learning environment. These buildings are just so nice to be in; they work well for everyone.

He doesn't mention the biophilia effect, but you can feel it, just looking at the photos.

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