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Architecture awards show sustainability is evolving

architecture, sustainability
Cairncross, photo: Scott Burrows

In choosing sustainable architecture, says Paul Worroll, chair of Queensland’s Institute of Architects sustainability committee and deputy jury chair for the 2018 awards, they looked for “more than the usual adding on of rainwater tanks and solar panels”.

“We looked for things to do with social sustainability, in terms of community focus and inclusiveness as well, and architects that maybe chose non-mechanical methods other than bolting things on, and passive principles. One took a very strong approach, maintained the environment, touched the land lightly and used recycled materials. They went that extra mile to make it sustainable.”

This was the standout project – the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, a skywalk in a rainforest by Guymer Bailey. The architects had identified all the local animals, plant species and foliage, and sensitively minimised disruption to the rainforest floor as well as going the “extra yard” to provide an educative tool for visitors. The challenge also had been to make sure that in the process of construction, no damage was done. It was not only about the end product, but how the construction happened – the whole picture.

architecture, sustainability

In Queensland, Worroll says, where it has become the norm to have aircon (“I hate to say it but it’s become a bit like a colour TV”) in a small residential project, one architect had managed to convince a client to take out airconditioning.

“Talking someone into taking it out is significant.”

There was also a landscape story where a particular client for a house extension adopted “sponge city principles”, collecting all the water collected on the site, so they didn’t rely on water (from outside) but had a self-sufficient closed loop.

There have been some good efforts to use recycled material, he says, and cooperation between builders and architects about sourcing sustainable materials.

Worroll says that although architects are making a larger effort to be sustainable and consider climate change and basic principles, there is still a long way to go and more time needed to be spent educating clients about the future of earth and climate change.

“We can promote good sustainable architecture as cost efficient with good pay back. It was refreshing to see some projects make a large effort to do that. On the sustainability committee, we are always asking all architects, ‘What strategies did you consider. Did you downsize?’ Post-occupancy evaluations are needed too.”

This year, particularly, buildings have respected the local context, particularly in the regions and remote area, and a little less so in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and central Queensland. 

architecture, sustainability

Optus Stadium, photo: Peter Bennetts

WA takes a different tack

WA’s sustainable jury chair, Philip Griffiths, says the integration of sustainability into the architecture awards for all buildings instead of the delineated category of the past was creating an obligation to take sustainability into account. Some architects and clients went the extra mile, and some a lot of extra miles. Some look in terms of traditional notions of sustainability while some interpret it in the widest possible sense.

For him, Yalgoo Avenue, a little house by architect Michelle Blakeley, stood out because she went way beyond what she needed, getting to 8.4 star NatHERS. She did anything and everything possible in terms of sustainability, including photovoltaic cells, orientation and double glazing. She and her client went “down the path together” and made provisions for bolting on other sustainability features to take it even further later.

“And we don’t just talk about sustainability itself, for all the entries it has to be a beautiful design. It has to have both,” Griffiths says.

At the other end from the modest Yalgoo Avenue in WA was the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium by Hassell, Cox and HKS, which won took out four awards this year.

On the banks of the Swan River, the project had decontaminated a highly contaminated site very close to the city, creating a tourist attraction to contribute to economic sustainability.

Griffiths says: “We looked at all dimensions of sustainability. What is sustainability? It’s about every kind of wellbeing in awider sense. There’s music and parks around [the stadium]… It’s complex and was a bit of a shock for people to hear we had given it [the highest George Temple Poole Award], and what in the broad sense sustainability actually means.”

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