The much-touted "smart skin facade" of RMIT University's "design and sustainability beacon" is up for replacement already, following potentially hazardous problems with tumbling glass parts.

The many thousands of individual glass discs on the “smart skin” facade of a landmark new RMIT University building are all slated for replacement, in a move that critics claim is motivated by quality defects as opposed to the incorporation of the latest technological advances.

Work on RMIT’s $80 million Design Hub, located in the Melbourne inner north suburb of Carlton, wrapped up in 2012, with the university’s pro vice-chancellor Professor Paul Gough hailing the new facility as a “beacon of what is possible in design and sustainability.”

One of the most widely touted sustainability and design features of the Design Hub is its highly distinctive exterior, consisting of a grid of circular glass discs that can be replaced with solar PV cells or other advanced devices once technology catches up with the vision of a “smart skin” facade.

RMIT is seeking to made good on the proposed smart skin facade already, announcing that all 16,000 glass discs on the building’s exterior will be replaced just several years following its completion. The university has announced that the move is intended to “incorporate the latest breakthroughs in solar technologies into its iconic facade,” given that “technology has now caught up with the original vision for the Design Hub.”

Some critics have a more cynical take on the decision, speculating that the mass replacement of all of the glass discs on the building’s exterior has been prompted by problems with construction quality as opposed to breakthrough technological advances that have taken place in the mere three years since its completion.

The RMIT media release acknowledges that the large-scale replacement is also intended to “address the issue of a small number of discs breaking since the building’s completion” – a major safety problem given the multi-storey height of the building and adjacent pedestrian footpaths.

Alan Davies, Transport and Urban Development Consultant, writes in Crikey that the peril created by falling discs has necessitated the installation of protective scaffolding around the Design Hub for the past 18 months, in order to safeguard pedestrians from injury.

The replacement of the disks could prove to be immensely expensive, with Davies pointing out that the building’s “smart skin” originally cost in excess of $20 million to construct.