Legion House at Liberty Place

By Cameron Jewell

5 August 2014 — Grocon’s Liberty Place precinct at 161 Castlereagh Street, Sydney has taken out the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW Award for Excellence in Sustainable Development, beating stiff competition from Mirvac’s 8 Chifley and Defence Australia’s AE2 residences.

The Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp-designed Liberty Place comprises five sites of commercial office and retail, and involved the high-profile refurbishment of the historic Legion House, the first refurb designed to meet the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s definition of a zero carbon building. Both Legion House and Liberty’s 42-storey, 57,300 square metre Premium Grade ANZ Tower have also been awarded 6 Star Green Star Design v2 ratings.

“While Liberty Place was conceived during the Global Financial Crisis, Grocon did not sway from its commitment to quality,” chief judge Laurie Rose said. “Liberty Place started with a run-down open arcade, backed on by a heritage-listed building on another street, all not in an acknowledged A-Class area.

“The transformation that has occurred melds great architecture, heritage conservation and high environmental goals to produce a first class outcome.”

ANZ Tower

Grocon chief executive Carolyn Viney said the award was a great honour, and one she hoped was shared by collaborators GPT, LaSalle Investment Management, ISPT and sustainability consultant Umow Lai, and anchor tenants ANZ and Herbert Smith Freehills.

“We had a bold vision for this project right from the get-go,” Ms Viney said. “We wanted to push boundaries with new technologies and demonstrate that carbon neutrality can exist in functional and beautiful commercial buildings.

“…Liberty Place is a physical demonstration of an idea we had to construct a small CBD building that could be self powered; a real-life working model to share knowledge and expertise for future city developments.”

Not zero carbon yet

Legion House previously gained much attention after developer Grocon announced the building would generate all its own electricity and be able to be disconnected from the grid through the use of biomass gasification technology in which paper waste from ANZ Tower and surrounding areas would be used to create a recycled paper/plantation woodchip briquette feedstock that would be turned into gas to generate electricity – something Grocon said had been of particular interest to the community and major tenants.

However, it seems this novel technology has taken more time to get off the ground than expected, with the process marred by regulatory and technological hurdles, meaning the carbon neutral status of Legion House is yet to been achieved.

A spokeswoman for Grocon told The Fifth Estate it was working to establish a reliable, continuing power source as required by the tenants, but the process was taking longer than anticipated, “as leading edge technology sometimes does”.

“The fuel source has been proven up, and the procurement, installation and commissioning of the system is underway,” a Grocon statement said. “When operational, the system and other environmental initiatives will enable Legion House to operate as ‘carbon neutral’.

“Grocon has now received approval from the authorities to proceed with the paper briquettes as a feedstock for the gasifier. There have been many challenges associated with the application of this technology and attaining the support of the authorities primarily due to the nature of it being a ‘first’ in terms of this particular use of the technology in a large-scale commercial office setting. Grocon continue to work through the commissioning challenges.”

Sustainable design features

Liberty Place features a number of sustainability initiatives, making it a great model of sustainable building, gasifier or not.

Façade

ANZ Tower’s façade uses double and triple low e coatings. An argon gas filled cavity increases thermal insulation properties and aluminium mullions incorporate a “thermal shield” to reduce the solar heat on the metal transferring inside the building.

The hermetic seal has leakage rates that are a 97 per cent improvement on industry specifications.

The façade performance is similar to ventilated cavity design but without the net lettable area penalty those systems often suffer. Overall, the façade has made major contributions in reducing the impact of solar load on airconditioning.

Trigeneration system

The trigeneration system incorporates two 420 kilowatt gas generators and two 317kWth absorber chillers. Grocon said that industry feedback suggested investors were becoming increasingly sceptical of trigen, as many had not proven effective in actual operation. Liaison with Grocon investors ensured that “real world” experience from property owners was included in the design.

This included:

  • Appropriate size – the trigeneration capacity has been chosen to match the building operation, “load lopping” has been maximised in practice, not on paper (which has resulted in systems that are over-sized and idle)
  • Power cables redesigned to ensure all available building load is available for the gas generators, maximising the available operation time for the trigeneration system
  • Splitting the trigeneration system into two sets at half size – allows the gas generators to run at very low demand to maximise run time
  • Matching the absorber chillers to the generators – not by size, but based on the “quality” of the waste heat available from the gas generators, maximising the free cooling from the absorbers (which convert the waste heat to free cooling)
  • Cooling from the absorbers is used to “pre-treat” the cooling systems, meaning that even when performance is low (if the generators are not running at peak), the cooling is still able to be used
  • Dual fuel generators – special generators were manufactured specifically for the project in Indiana in order to run on dual gases – natural gas and bio-gas produced from the gasifier system

Airconditioning

ANZ Tower incorporates chilled beams to the façade areas and a variable air volume system for the internals, which was done to balance energy performance with the industry preference for VAV systems.

Legion House is cooled by the Southern Hemisphere’s largest propane chiller.

Energy and water

Vacuum toilets and waterless urinals in Legion House mean that the building has an adequate water supply from rainwater alone.

Solar panels are in operation on the roof of ANZ Tower.

Construction and materials

During construction 98 per cent of construction waste was recycled rather than sent to landfill.

Paint was produced locally by ecolour in Byron Bay, which is certified carbon neutral and zero VOC – as opposed to the typical “low VOC” products.

With support from Carter Holt Harvey, a new FSC-certified plywood was developed for the project that achieved strength requirements for use within the structural core jump forms. This has expanded the FSC-certified plywood products that are available to the market.

Grocon worked closely with the tenants and their selected fitout contractors to modify the base build to suit fitout design, ensuring fitout contractors did not start by demolition of elements of the base build that they did not require.

Social sustainability

The Liberty Place precinct has also incorporated a social sustainability agenda, with an emphasis on creating new public spaces, public art and community awareness through the accommodation on a rent free basis of the St James Ethics Centre within the development.

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3 replies on “Grocon’s Liberty Place gets sustainability accolade”

  1. Grocon should be applauded for the effort, it is quite a visionary project and the general energy design principles sound.

    Right now it could be enjoying even more success and far fewer “commissioning challenges” if they had chosen to correct an error made through faulty due diligence and installed Australian Gasification technology instead of listening to spin. It is not the mistakes that define the outcome though, but how these are subsequently addressed.

    The genuine and unique technology developed here in Australia is now heading overseas. Properly implemented onsite gasification systems can provide enormous benefits in making our cities cleaner and more sustainable. Making the wrong choice however only harms the genuine technology suppliers and by extension our collective futures.

  2. I assume the zero carbon status relates only to operational energy otherwise where is LCA and Carbon footprint of the materials mentioned or how is it calculated?

  3. I take my hat of to anybody or company that pushes the boundaries of great sustainable design

    I ask this question. Why is it that we have to jump through so many hops to create great sustainable building. Yet it is so easy to build the mediocre.

    I will quote from the LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE document

    IT’S TIME TO IMAGINE A LIVING FUTURE AND A WORLD OF
    LIVING BUILDINGS

    INSTEAD OF A WORLD THAT IS MERELY A LESS BAD VERSION
    OF THE ONE WE CURRENTLY HAVE
    WE ASK A SIMPLE AND PROFOUND QUESTION
    WHAT DOES GOOD LOOK LIKE?

    AND the Living Building Challenge Standard

    THIS STANDARD IS AN ACT OF OPTIMISM AND BELIEF THAT
    WITH THE RIGHT TOOLS IN THE HANDS OF PASSIONATE, LITERATE AND SENSITIVE INDIVIDUALS, A REVOLUTIONARY TRANSFORMATION IS POSSIBLE. IT IS A PROGRAM THAT
    ASKS US TO THINK HOLISTICALLY AND ENGAGE BOTH OUR RIGHT AND LEFT BRAINS, HEAD AND HEART.

    We must try a lot harder!! I believe our future depends on it

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