At Talina Edwards Architecture, we’re committed to keeping up to date with the latest news and developments in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, specifically relevant to our local climate here in Ballarat (where our studio is located and much of our work), but also surrounding areas including Melbourne where many of our past and current projects are too. I regularly undertake continuing professional development (CPD) relating to architectural practice and the construction industry, and take a keen interest in current issues of environmental sustainability.
This week I attended the Design Build Expo at Jeff’s Shed (Exhibition Buildings) at Southbank in Melbourne, which is a trade event held over 3 days showcasing new and innovative building products, and featuring “Industry Insights” presentations by guest speakers who are experts in their fields. The organisers had arranged a “sustainability trail” to the stands that had environmental credentials….so that’s where I headed. I checked out a vast array of building products/materials/systems and came home with an armload of “showbags” packed full of trade literature, brochures and samples – mainly with regards to insulation, glazing, timber products, LED lighting, E0 (non-toxic) MDF, and more. So many companies claim their products are “eco”, so I was asking lots of questions to find out why they were promoting their product as “sustainable”, or if it really was a lot of greenwash. Most provided very confident answers under my interrogation, but many were a left with not much to say when probed about how far their product travels to reach Australian shores, and consequently the high embodied-energy due to transport and/or manufacturer…they are definitely making improvements over the status quo, but we still have a long way to go. I’ll be discussing some of our favourite sustainable building products in future blog posts.
I had chosen to go along to this event on “Sustainability Day“, which meant that there were presentations being held all day with topics relating specifically to Sustainability. I attended four of these seminars, which were presented by engaging, informative experts. These talks were invaluable, and I felt very grateful to be there to hear these people sharing their knowledge and insights.
“The National Construction Code and Sustainability by The Australian Building Codes Board.” was presented by Neil Savery
He explained that they’re not a regulatory body; they write the standards, but it’s up to each state and territory government in Australia as to whether these standards are actually implemented. Disappointingly, he explained that their standards are far from “World’s Best Practice”, but more of a minimum benchmark; the standard below which is not acceptable. (i.e., energy-efficiency of buildings or insulation levels in the standard are set at the lowest level acceptable, which means that we should be aiming much higher than the current standards). Their focus is on “health and safety” of building occupants, and includes initiatives relating to energy-efficiency, water (plumbing), and social issues more these days, bush-fire, noise, disabled-access, etc. With regards to sustainability, they are making incremental changes slowly (i.e. news homes to be five-star rated homes previously, had now gone up to 6-star, and they will continue to make recommendations to the government to increase this when they feel the market is ready).
“Reach for the Stars” with Tim Adams (F2 Design) and Sven Maxa (Maxa Design)
Tim and Sven presented their projects which were finalists in the “10 star challenge” competition run by Building Designers Association of Victoria (BDAV). The star-rating of a new house is a rating that can be analysed using energy-efficiency rating software (FirstRate), to see how a building performs in relation to its location, throughout the seasons. For a house to achieve a 10-star rating, it means that it is completely ‘passive’, that is requiring to NO ENERGY to heat or cool it. Imagine how much money you’d save if you never had to turn on your heating or air-conditioning EVER again? Imagine how much of Earth’s resources (gas and electricity from non-renewable resources) that would save? Imagine how many greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided? Shouldn’t we all be aspiring to this?! And, the projects that these designers showcased, were also AFFORDABLE to build, and would save money throughout the building’s life. It is possible. It just takes some smart solar-passive design principles and clever material/product choices by someone who is knows about sustainable design….ahem…you know who to call! More importantly, it takes a willing client who sees the many benefits of this approach. And aesthetics? Well, your building could LOOK like a standard brick-veneer, or a slick contemporary piece of architecture, or a natural earth and timber shack…sustainable design is not a “style”, but an approach, a philosophy, or how the building works.
“Transforming Australian Cities By City Design” was presented by Professor Rob Adams
This was a very comprehensive presentation that illustrated the many design changes that have been implemented in Melbourne’s CBD over the past 30years, that have really contributed to Melbourne being one of the world’s most livable cities! He showed some leading examples from other cities that have transformed, and the lessons that have been learned. The design decisions were all about improving the ‘public realm’ and bringing life (people) back to the streets. This was done by street-planting and trees, making footpaths wider and more pedestrian-scale, making the city more bike-friendly and less about cars, commissioning public art and culture, encouraging sidewalk cafes and lane way-restaurants, etc…small changes that make a big difference. In terms of sustainability, he also discussed the strategic plans for housing Melbourne’s increasing population – by focusing on ‘activity centres’ and existing infrastructure (public transport, services, amenities, etc.) as places to build medium to high-density housing which will reduce Melbourne’s (unsustainable) suburban-sprawl. None of this was new to me; I’ve been interested in these urban ideas for some time. It was however, refreshing to revisit these ideas and think about them in relation to the Ballarat context – what can we learn from Melbourne’s improvements, and how will population growth affect Ballarat, and the connection/relationship between Melbourne and Ballarat.
“World of Certification”, panel discussion chaired by Cameron Rosen
The final presentation I attended was a Panel Session, comprising representatives from five different Australian certification bodies: EcoSpecifier/Global GreenTag, Australian Forestry Standard (AFS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), and Green Star/Green Building Council Australia. These parties are all involved in varying capacities to certify products and materials so the consumer has confidence about the environmental credentials of the brand, and not just ‘greenwash’. So even though they are separate groups, they all have the common goal of wanting to provide information about the better options available to us in Australia, with the companies reducing their environmental impact.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day….I do love learning new things (or being refreshed by some things I hadn’t thought about in a while)…Looking forward to sharing more with you all about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes again soon.