News from the front desk No 373: On finding the parallel universe to our future
8 February 2018
Remember the days when people whined about green buildings and said, “What next?”
Where can we go to after 6 Star Green Star, 6 Star NABERS and so on?
This week we found out. It was like we opened a door onto a parallel universe, one where any number of possibilities were waiting to be trialled, tested and rolled out.
No barriers other than reality, or physics, and possibly money, though we’ve always said there’s plenty of money; the only question is of where it’s directed or who’s doing the financial engineering so we can apply it to the things that really count – instead of the sheer genius that’s been applied to creating the GFC, for instance.
The hint of how 2018 might roll out came at the end of last year, in the final days before Christmas, with our last newsletter of the year. A mixed-use project, possibly two 40-storey buildings, would be constructed in Sydney’s St Leonards/Crows Nest precinct that would be off grid. It would be powered by human waste.
Late last week we flew to Melbourne to meet the brains behind the concept, James Murray-Parkes, who leads Brookfield’s Scientific Solutions group. One meeting was in the team’s Southbank offices, purpose built to suit the way his team of crack super brains work on a range of projects the mothership might throw their way.
Another meeting on Monday was in his personal studio across from Federation Square on Flinders Street, where Murray-Parkes comes up with a lot of his thinking and “does the maths”.
The meetings/interviews were a kind of “getting to know you” sessions. Uppermost in our mind of course was how the off-grid system in St Leonards would work. What was the technology that would complement the design (by Ken McBryde’s Sydney Architecture Studio)?
What about the reduced wind sheer idea that Murray-Parkes came up with to lessen the load on the building, meaning the need for less mass, that was inspired by the shape of an owl’s wing?
We had to promise not to reveal any details just yet. And once we started talking to Murray-Parkes we quickly understood why. This mathematician and professor of engineering – who was snapped up by one of the world’s biggest property asset owners, with $265 billion of funds under management, and previously worked with the highly regarded engineering think tank inside Laing O’Rourke and some universities – has a lot of insight in how to make buildings more sustainable. And that’s a highly valuable asset in itself.
Much will be for sharing, some not. Patience is key here.
But here’s a hint. The future, should we choose to survive it, will be as ancient as mother nature herself, Murray-Parkes says. Biomimicry holds pretty much most of the secrets to a sustainable planet. The evidence is in front of our eyes.
Put it this way: as amazing as the St Leonards project will be, it won’t be alone. Others are on the way. Some in Sydney, some in Melbourne, some on the other side of the planet.
Watch this space.
What’s exciting is the complete lack of concern for precedent in the way Murray-Parkes is tackling the challenges. And that he’s not alone. Murray-Parkes may be a global leader in his field but there is a growing crop of Mavericks emerging all around us – in the science labs (their natural home, clearly) the design tables and more recently some of the boardrooms and capital markets that drive the direction of this planet.