Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050

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Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050

Last Friday more than 260,600 people took to the streets of Australia for one of the world’s biggest climate strikes in history. Among attendees were many architects, who we know have a desire to drive meaningful change after declaring a climate emergency in August this year. Architects, builders, developers, urban planners, government bodies and councils are shaping our cities on a daily basis, so it’s crucial to ensure that every decision-maker is on the same page if we are to reach near net-zero by 2050.

It’s reassuring to know that Australia’s architects are in favour of eco-conscious development – whether that means upcycling and retrofitting existing structures or producing sustainable new developments. However, with the weight of the decision-making heavily in the court of developers, we decided to reach out to find out how much influence architects have over the final choices, and what they’re prepared to fight for.

Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Credit: Nicholas Failla

Here are their responses:

CLARKEHOPKINSCLARKE

Response provided by Robert Goodliffe, Managing Partner, ClarkeHopkinsClarke Architects

Urban.com.au: Which eco-conscious design features are most important to fight for, and what has been the response to these requests from developers?

ClarkeHopkinsClarke: Our practice works on large-scale projects urban design and architectural projects: master planning and designing town centres and future cities, mixed-use and multi-residential developments, seniors communities and educational and health facilities. So, we’re advocating for eco-conscious urban design, which influences not just a building but whole townships, not just for the economic lifespan of a building but for generations to come.

We’ve found support from progressive developers for the concept of 20-minute neighbourhoods and walkable, medium-density towns with well-connected infrastructure and amenity in place early so people can live and work and play there. These developers recognise the business case for a ‘village of villages’ approach because it’s desirable and it’s sustainable socially, environmentally and economically. It’s also scalable and works in diverse settings, from inner suburbs like Polaris to growth corridors like Tribeca Village, to large-scale employment hubs like Minta Farm and future cities in regional Australia like CLARA.

The most important change to fight for is mixed zoning. We’ve got to move away from separated zoning and better integrate homes, transport, services and amenities, as the world’s great cities have always done. That stops people having to get into a car and drive from a residential zone to a commercial zone to a recreational zone.

Urban.com.au: What needs to change from a building design perspective if we are to achieve near net-zero by 2050?

ClarkeHopkinsClarke: At this larger scale, once you have people living, working and playing in walkable, integrated townships, you can develop micro-grids at a community scale for on-site power generation. Currently, our energy system is set up in a hub-and-spoke style distribution network. What we need to move towards to achieve net-zero by 2050 are more options for different energy network micro-grids and co-generating cheaper, renewable power using community facilities. Power from waste generated by supermarkets, for example, or solar arrays on the rooves of local schools. With micro-grids communities can generate electricity at a low cost and feed it back into the grid, which can benefit households too.

CLARKEHOPKINSCLARKE’S MOST SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TO DATE

Minta Farm in Berwick

We’re transforming a long-held, 285-hectare property into a next-generation employment hub integrating 11,000 jobs with diverse high-, medium- and low-density housing for 5000 and the sort of community faciltes, walkability and public transport we love about our inner suburbs. The proposed masterplan also protects natural vistas, waterways, heritage sites and biodiverse habitats cherished by locals. Minta turns the industrial park concept on its head to create a community that’s desireable to employers as well as residents. Critically, it emerged as planners were reforming Victorian zoning and helped the push for a new zone, Commercial 3, which allows fresh approaches to compact, medium-density, mixed-use town centres.

Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Minta Farm in Berwick. Credit: ClarkeHopkinsClarke

WOODS BAGOT

Response provided by Hazel Porter, Principal and Design Leader, Woods Bagot

Urban.com.au: Which eco-conscious design features are most important to fight for, and what has been the response to these requests from developers?

Woods Bagot: Woods Bagot’s approach has always been to tackle each design opportunity anew, with responsive contextual design solutions bespoke to each project. Each project we take on offers a unique opportunity to bring in new and evolving technology, and apply it to established knowledge for good design. Sustainability is becoming more and more critical to these conversations.

For example, at Melbourne Connect, we have a mixed-use series of connected buildings with 360-degree exposure, which is great amenity for views and connectivity to the surrounds. This approach also poses a challenge for each façade to respond meaningfully to orientation and solar loading.

Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Melbourne Connect. Credit: Woods Bagot/Lendlease

The challenge for the main Academic Workplace building has been to embody the expression of the University of Melbourne and what Melbourne Connect has set out to achieve – to be world-class in innovation, research and sustainability, and justifiably of an appropriate aesthetic for the precinct. The design of the crystalline glazed façades has been seamlessly integrated with a responsive approach to ESD and further enhances the built form solution to achieve these ambitions.

The façade design is responsive, in part to performance-driven energy-efficient responsive solutions, to reduce solar heat loading and therefore the amount of energy needed to achieve a 10 percent target for generative energy on-site. Prisms and hoods are offset at each floor adding a crystalline surface to the facetted overall forms and providing self-shading across most facades and unique architectural expression.

Once the design concept and intent were established, the parametric design process employed by our team produced numerous iterations of design permutations to determine an optimum solution, which is different for each façade. This process allowed the developer visibility to the logic behind the design decisions being made, and thus when changes are made they are easily measured.

Urban.com.au: What needs to change from a building design perspective if we are to achieve near net-zero by 2050?

Woods Bagot: If the target of 100 percent of all buildings to be operating at net-zero by 2050 is realistically being aimed for industry-wide, then we will collectively achieve it. It isn’t necessarily about a particular application of technology, or a change in a planning scheme, or even a buy-in from government. To achieve the 2050 target there needs to be a holistic shift from all sides of the industry to change the perception of why the target is required in the first instance. If we begin with the fundamentals in place from the outset, the design process to follow will have every chance to succeed and achieve these targets.

ONE OF WOODS BAGOT'S MOST SUSTAINABLE DESIGNS TO DATE

Collins Arch

  • Comprising a whole city block in Melbourne’s CBD demonstrates how an under-utilised part of the city can be transformed into an internationally significant precinct that activates the central core with a 24-hour life
  • Massive emphasis on public open space
  • 6 Star Green Star Rating
  • 5.5-star NABERS Energy Rating
  • Platinum level WELL Pre-certification new office building
Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Collins Arch. Credit: Multiplex/Woods Bagot

FENDER KATSALIDIS 

Response provided by Chris Johnson, Principal, Fender Katsalidis

Urban.com.au: Which eco-conscious design features are most important to fight for, and what has been the response to these requests from developers?

In principle, the building enclosure is the battleground for all developers with many responding positively to the design team’s recommendations to increase airtightness, thermal improvement and solar control.

Urban.com.au: What needs to change from a building design perspective if we are to achieve near net-zero by 2050?

Legislated change is possible but unlikely in the near future in Australia. Thus, change in the building industry is likely to be incremental. We remain committed to doing something for small improvements which are better than none.

FENDER KATSALIDIS' MOST SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TO DATE

Nishi delivers an extraordinary 6 Star Green Star ‘as-built’ rating, in addition to an 8-star NaTHERs rating which was achieved by creating a building that responds to the surrounding environment. A sustainable Australian timber louvred façade provides shading to limit solar gains, and the largest field of photovoltaics in Australia is housed on the roof.

The building’s designs also include a sewage recycling plant, low energy fixtures and fittings, and lighting which responds to available daylight.

Molonglo Group, the developers of the precinct, very much wanted the building to be the best possible embodiment of the values they hold dear. Those values include the imperative of environmental sustainability, the desire to create a pocket of urbanity, tolerance, inclusiveness and richness in Canberra, and their love of the immersion of daily life in a milieu of culture and stimulation.

Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Nishi. Credit: Fender Katsalidis

BVN

CO-CEO NEIL LOGAN

Response provided by Neil Logan, Co-CEO, BVN

Urban.com.au: Which eco-conscious design features are most important to fight for, and what has been the response to these requests from developers?

In a way, we need to move beyond thinking of individual, isolated ‘features’, as being the basis of how the built environment will move towards a liveable future. We need to be thinking in terms of regenerative design principles which work on the holistic integration of all of a building's elements into a self-sustaining system. This is an approach which relies on a deep level of collaboration between all players in the design process and comes from an understanding of ‘place’ as an expression of the integrated ecologies of climate, resources and culture.

Within this holistic, regenerative worldview however, there are some obvious common themes. As buildings become more energy-efficient (as they must by necessity…), and as our percentage of renewable energy generation increases, there will be a much greater emphasis put on the embodied energy performance of our buildings. This topic has been discussed in the industry for many years, but we are only now getting to the point where methods of Life Cycle Analysis assessment are becoming streamlined enough to be used as a significant driver of design solutions rather than as an after the fact assessment.

BVN’s recently completed Kambri precinct for ANU in Canberra (a large multi-use, multi-building development) has been an excellent example of the benefits of employing a live, real-time analysis tool which allows the design team to assess design iterations in relation to the overall ecological footprint of the project. This process was promoted by both the University as client and by Lend Lease as Managing Contractor. The analysis was managed by The Footprint Company, with the brief being to aim for a Single Planet outcome as the project’s footprint (If everyone on earth had the same footprint as Australia, we would need 4.1 planets…). With the whole design team working in a holistic, integrated way, and the embodied energy of all building elements being evaluated during design stage, the project achieved an outcome beyond its original goal, eventually achieving a 0.6 planet rating.

We are currently looking at how this process can feed more directly into all of the projects we do and how we illustrate and communicate the benefits to potential clients.

Urban.com.au: What needs to change from a building design perspective if we are to achieve near net-zero by 2050?

We are currently constructing buildings which will still be around and operational in 2050. With very, very few exceptions, these projects are not remotely net zero.

To allow for this and still be Net Zero by then, we need our future building stock to be effectively net positive. This will require a shift in how we design many of our buildings.

There are many ways to achieve this outcome involving passive design principles combined with onsite energy generation systems. A prime opportunity here is to focus more on the performance capabilities of our building envelopes. This will drive a stronger uptake of adaptable façade designs where the façade can modify it’s shading, daylighting and in some cases thermal performance depending on the ever-changing external conditions.

There are many methods for achieving this, ranging from operable external blinds and screens, through to ventilated cavity facades and adaptive glass technologies. It will not be enough to just make our envelopes more energy efficient though. We will need to make them generators. The technology for this is also moving quickly with Thin Film Building Integrated Photo Voltaic / Thermal products becoming more practical every day.

These adaptable/intelligent envelopes almost always have a higher capital cost but lower operating costs. The sensitivity between these 2 figures varies from client to client and this is something which we hope becomes more convergent sooner rather than later.

Finding ways to reduce energy transmission through building envelopes while maximizing their generation capacity is only part of the equation though. Doing this while preserving people’s access to daylight, view and visible connection to the society and culture around us is an ongoing architectural challenge but it is one which must utilize every piece of technological advancement possible. Simply creating windowless solid boxes is not a sustainable answer. Our challenge is to give people what they want, as well as what they need.

BVN'S MOST SUSTAINABLE DESIGN TO DATE

Australia’s leading architects share what they are willing to fight for to achieve near net-zero by 2050
Australian National University – Kambri precinct by photographer John Gollings

ROTHELOWMAN

Response provided by Chris Hayton, Principal, Rothelowman

Urban.com.au: Which eco-conscious design features are most important to fight for, and what has been the response to these requests from developers?

Sustainable design starts with a considered holistic approach to reducing the use of resources during the construction and lifespan of a building. The greatest difference can be made on the drawing board through the careful consideration of orientation and the base building fabric. Perhaps one of the bigger challenges is limiting the amount of glazing in buildings. This isn’t just a challenge for developers but also demands that we adjust our expectations as occupants. Is it really necessary to have full-height wall to wall glazing in a bedroom or an office?

Urban.com.au: What needs to change from a building design perspective if we are to achieve near net-zero by 2050?

Whilst the improvements that can be made to building design and fabric are reasonably well understood and documented not enough focus is given to the way we use buildings. So whilst we absolutely need to continue to improve the design and construction quality of buildings we also need to modify our behaviour and become more tolerant of a greater range of environmental conditions within a building. We also need to condense our cities and develop a more sophisticated attitude towards higher density. We have a suburban sensibility towards urbanism that is often reflected in planning outcomes that are driven by political agendas, not good, future conscious, urban design.

Lead image: Melbourne Climate Strike, Friday 20th September. Photography credit: Nicholas Failla

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