Nelson Mandela

News from the front desk, Issue 502: We know, we know…our massive 127-page ebook Flick the Switch based on our event on net zero and all electric buildings and cities, is barely off the virtual printing presses and here we are announcing a new event, with ebook to come.

It’s called Building Circularity – why our Renaissance needs to be a perfect circle.

It’s on 24 November.

Think of it as the flip side of Flick. The embodied carbon and circular economy story with our special intensity focus on the built environment.

It will be a brilliant event with a fantastic line up of speakers. We’re keeping the details under wraps for just a bit longer, but trust us, the line-up is full of firecrackers.

As you can expect from the shock tactics thrown at us by Mother Nature in 2020 there is a serious call to arms to tackle our challenges.

And it’s clear that some of the best minds in architecture, engineering, design, science, academia and materials are onto it.

In New Zealand – our new poster child for the planet – even the clients are demanding more. Architects there say they have been surprised by the appetite of their clients pushing for targets and metrics.

“It’s like 2020 has made people wake up and realise they have to move, fast,” said one.

We need new thinking in design, construction methods and in materials in particular.

So, it was with all this in mind that it was exciting to come across a builder in Brisbane doing things builders rarely do: taking risks and doing something new. The builder is even willing to usw a material that’s never been used globally for this particular purpose, an in-situ multi-storey building.

The builder is Marc Kenney of Mettle. And the material he’s pioneered, for the first time globally, is geopolymer concrete developed by Wagners and now known as Earth Friendly Concrete.

It slashes emissions, both Wagners and Kenney claim, by a massive 80 per cent compared to ordinary concrete.

It’s been used in wharves, in runways, and in precast panels but never in a multi-storey building, in this case six storeys.

But given the massively risk averse nature of the building and construction sector, why has Kenney chosen to try it out? That’s the big question.

There are a number of reasons and all of them interesting. Ranging from the technical – such as meeting a challenge that he senses is of the moment and needs to be done. The sense of being the first “because someone has to be first.

And also the sense of obligation. Over the past five years, says Kenney, he’s become increasingly aware that we, people, need to lessen our footprint on this planet.

Along with his growing sense of obligation to the planet has come what we

reckon must be the sheer delight of discovering biophilia.

His staff and whoever ends up living in the two apartments next to the offices will be able to enjoy a rooftop garden with bees, spa and wifi to encourage everyone to take their laptops to their new-fangled workplaces outdoors. (Thank you coronavirus.)

It’s hard to describe the feeling when we come across the brave people who put their money where their mouths are.

Of course, the fact this building is the headquarters for his own company helped the decision. For once, he could call the shots, Kenney told us.

As you’d expect, taking a product out of the lab and using it in real life posed technical challenges. The project needed a bit more time to implement and to deal with issues that arose around geopolymer concrete setting from the outside in, the reverse of regular concrete.

But even those technical issues that, along with commercial challenges, stop many a brilliant idea from making it out of the lab, are no match to the biggest of all human barriers to change, fear of failure.

One industry leader, also a builder, told a Green Building Council event a few years ago, that yes, he could see the benefits waiting on the other side of the cliff, but getting to them required a giant leap of faith and leaving behind the known comfort of proven success.

Then there’s the beautiful insight attributed to Nelson Mandela: that we mere mortals don’t so much fear failure as the blinding power of our light when we drag it out from under its bushel.

So, there is the biggest gauntlet of all thrown at our feet.

Let’s give it a go and frighten ourselves with the achievements we can make.

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