Adelaide Rocks with Nice Architects

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By Jody McCutcheon

When is a heap of rubble not a heap of rubble? When it’s a visually spectacular, vegetation-adorned, climate-controlling mini-mountain. We’re talking about the centrepiece of the proposed cultural and civic space in Adelaide, South Australia, that won the People’s Choice Award as well as joint second prize in the–deep breath–Royal Adelaide Hospital Site Open Ideas International Design Competition.


Conceived by Slovakia’s Nice Architects and constructed from demolition debris, Adelaide Rocks takes a page from the book of American architect Mitchell Joachim by repositioning waste as a positive, useful thing. The visually engaging, massive hill is visible from just about anywhere in the city, an enticing invitation to hike up a mountain and catch a spectacular view from the summit. The hill is surrounded with a mixed-use community of art galleries, museums, universities and commercial, residential, sports and recreational buildings, offering activities aplenty to fill the day. Plans include a 23-storey mixed-use tower, designed with a six-star rating in mind.


Adelaide Rocks serves other eco-friendly functions, too. Keeping with the recycling theme, the project will reuse vacated, on-site buildings rather than constructing new ones. Also, the man-made hill’s verticality and mass affords excellent climate control of interior and exterior spaces around the site through subsidence cooling, geothermal exchange, heat extraction via solar thermal chimney, and a mass cool-chamber that stores cooling energy. What takes shape is a variety of open and covered public spaces, each with its own microclimate, allowing for comfortable, year-round access to many different activities.


The aforementioned 23-storey tower’s many horizontal planes will offer green planting opportunities, as well as solar-water heating for all residences. Rainwater will be collected and stored in underground cisterns (about 6 million litres’ worth), to use during the inevitable dry season. On-site water-management systems will promote water re-usage and recycling. Native vegetation will cover the hill, which is designed to respond to South Australia’s climatic and geologic context.


The buildings of Adelaide Rocks will produce their own  energy. Many of the project’s roofs boast solar panels, providing the site with about 500kW and generating 700MWh (megawatt hours of energy) per year, thus eliminating up to 900 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Wind turbines will provide additional energy. Together, the solar and wind power sources will significantly reduce the site’s contribution to Adelaide’s peak energy demands. All buildings will aim for the highest levels of efficiency and seek Australian Green Star certification where applicable.

The downside is that, since Adelaide Rocks achieved only a second-place finish in the RAHS contest, the project itself may not see the light of day. But it offers some forward-thinking ideas about waste recycling and climate control. That’s a hill worth climbing.

Jody McCutcheon
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