Rialto: how to transform a Melbourne giant
Willow Aliento | 10 November 2016
SPECIAL REPORT: There’s a view that old buildings can’t perform. Rialto shows it’s that thinking that’s outdated. In this building, good bones means age is no impediment to making a building commercially and environmentally sustainable. Here’s how.
Once the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, Melbourne’s Rialto Towers is currently in the midst of a major revival program to ensure it remains one of the CBD’s top properties. It’s a work in progress the consultants and engineering team say proves age is no barrier for sustainable building performance.
The $200 million package of works for the property owned by Grollo Group and St Martins Properties includes substantial upgrades to improve tenant amenity, energy performance and a new ground plane delivering increased net lettable area and a new street-level identity.
Rialto general manager Stephen Jensen says the key driver behind the upgrades for the property is to ensure it is the “first choice” for business owners and corporations looking for new Premium grade premises in the Melbourne CBD.
“An important component of the key driver is to ensure that Rialto’s building services are commensurate with industry expectations for a Premium asset in every sense – quality, technology, capacity and efficiency,” Jensen says.
Two new podium buildings designed by Woods Bagot facing Collins St and King St are being constructed. The buildings comprise a total of 7000 square metres of net lettable area with a mix of uses including commercial space, retail, and health and wellness. In addition co-working spaces and general services tenants will form part of the mix.
The new buildings will be connected to the towers at both the ground level and via sky bridges. The ground floor plaza area between the buildings will be covered by a glazed “grid shell” canopy that will allow filtered sunlight to illuminate the plaza while protecting users from the elements. Jensen says this will allow the space to also host events and dining, in addition to providing outdoor space amenity for tenants and building users. Uses for an outdoor sky deck are also being considered.
Bank of Melbourne has committed to both commercial office and retail space, Plenary to office space and MJ Bale to retail premises. Several others are in negotiation.
Refreshing an icon
As part of the refreshment of the building’s market position, end-of-trip facilities designed by Woods Bagot have been created that provide amenities, secure lockers and secure bicycle parking, towel service, ironing and grooming facilities, drying rooms and a dry cleaning drop-off point.
Chris Wallbank, head of JLL’s Energy and Sustainability Services division, says Rialto is a “great example of an icon building” that has an “amazing opportunity” to improve its market appeal.
JLL ESS’s role has been to review numerous alternatives and then provide an integrated upgrade pathway for all the primary plant and equipment with the aim of achieving uplift to the NABERS rating and increased tenant appeal, retention and satisfaction.
The proposed upgrades leverage the quality of the original design and construction, including the facade, structure, plant space and infrastructure.
“The strategy has been to maximise the benefits of the original building design and then apply the latest technology to deliver service standards commensurate with current and future market need,” Wallbank says.
One of the features of the original structure is air intakes between the north and south towers that allow the building to “breathe”. As part of the upgrade, the air intake potential for the building was significantly improved to bring outside air into the floor-by-floor systems so the free cooling potential for the building was maximised.
He says the work has taken a holistic approach to services upgrades, aligning each with a number of focus areas including NABERS, tenant flexibility, PCA requirements, ventilation criteria and market need following extensive research with the JLL leasing team.
Over the past decade primary building services have undergone major improvements in energy efficiency of approximately 20 to 50 per cent depending on the service, he says.
“By applying a careful design and integration improvements can deliver maximum performance improvement and increased tenant comfort.”
Rialto’s engineering services manager Rebecca Brennan says the building was constructed to the “highest standard, including building services and technology for its time”.
The building floors are already open plan with central cores, enabling good views and natural light.
The glazing originally installed for the facade was Australian-manufactured solar-control double-glazed units. Given the high performance of the existing facade, it is the mechanical systems that have been the focus of upgrade works to improve tenant comfort and energy performance.
A deep energy performance refurbishment in progress
The owners of the property have adopted an integrated approach to the services upgrades, Wallbank says.
Upgrades to improve energy efficiency are happening at both a floor-by-floor level and also in terms of whole-building systems.
The major gains for tenants of the services upgrades are improved ventilation rates, air movement, temperature control and filtration, Wallbank says.
Air distribution technology has evolved substantially since the original design ,and one of the innovations now being installed in upgraded is a new air distribution system to improve air movement and tenant comfort.
Rialto has independent HVAC systems for each floor. This allows for staging of upgrades, and also enables system specifications to be varied to accommodate specific tenant needs.
One of the floor-by-floor upgrades being completed in line with tenant vacancies is primary air handling unit upgrades.
The original installation for levels M1 to 39 required two AHUs per floor. This plant is being removed and replaced with four latest technology AHUs that provide improved zone control, increased filtration, greater use of free cooling and allow separate supply of outside air for tenants to be achieved.
The new sandwich panel air handling units feature the latest fan technology from Germany which are generating savings of approximately 40 per cent in fan power, Wallbank says
VAV boxes are also being upgraded to further improve energy efficiency and decrease fan energy use.
Lighting is being upgraded, with the original T8 fluorescent fittings replaced with LED-compatible Envirolite T5 fittings incorporating sensor lighting control and daylight harvesting. The new lighting uses around 55 per cent less electricity.
Bathrooms and lobbies are also being upgraded floor-by-floor to a new design, along with carpet, ceiling tiles and ceiling grid.
Cutting energy use of lifts
Central plant and system initiatives include a planned upgrade to vertical transportation comprising 33 passenger lifts, two goods lifts and three car park shuttle lifts commencing in late 2017. The existing DC machines will be replaced with energy efficient AC machines, which Brennan says is expected to result in around 50 per cent less energy use.
The current 30-year-old control system will be upgraded to destination control technology to further improve performance and efficiency.
An upgrade to the 24/7 airconditioning system for the eight lift motor rooms has already been completed. The original system used chilled water from the main building chillers, which meant the main chiller plant had to be operating even when there was no other load required for the building, Brennan says.
JLL ESS designed new Lift Motor Room condenser water cooled air conditioning units which reduce the daily load on main chillers and enable the main system to be shut down overnight and on low temperature days when cooling for office spaces and other areas is not required. Brennan says this has also achieved substantial energy savings.
This project was undertaken in conjunction with a tenant condenser water loop system upgrade which involved a total redesign and installation of additional capacity to meet current market needs – all completed without disruption to existing tenants.
Central plant upgrades
“The tenancy mandate for condenser water has altered since the building was designed with higher demand associated with data rooms, supplementary cooling systems and increased density,” Brennan says.
The new system now exceeds PCA guidelines for Premium grade, as well as improving efficiency.
Works have also been completed for the total replacement of chillers in the level 32 and M2 plant rooms, and the cooling towers on M2. Associated pumps and infrastructure were also replaced.
The level 56 cooling towers had been replaced some years ago, however Jensen says it was found that further energy savings could be achieved by improving the air flow to the plant room. This has flow-on effects including reducing condenser water temperature and improving the performance of chillers on level 39.
Improving the air flow to the plant room was achieved via the “delicate exercise” of cutting penetrations into the rooftops of levels 57 and 59 to remove around 40 tonnes of concrete – without disrupting tenants in the fully occupied building.
The time programming for the building’s car park exhaust fans has been changed, resulting in a significant reduction in energy use, and further potential improvements are being investigated, Brennan says.
Ongoing tuning part of the secret
Rialto has an FM team of 14 across engineering, operations, fitout management, technicians, electricians, painters, carpenter and a trades assistant.
Regular tuning is an essential part of the management strategy for Rialto.
A comprehensive preventative maintenance schedule is in place that covers all building services, and the current Honeywell building automation system is monitored by the in-house management and maintenance teams, Honeywell technicians and the property’s around-the-clock security team.
“We aim to keep the building finely tuned to obtain energy efficiencies wherever possible and ensure the existing systems are running at optimum operation,” Brennan says.
Submetering delivers more efficiency
There is an extensive metering system installed throughout the building also that monitors energy and water use. The data is captured by a web-based Honeywell Energy Manager system that issues reports automatically and provides a monitoring platform.
Brennan says the system also has benefits including more intuitive control functionality that enables building plant to be load shed and also point tolerance adjusted to maintain pre-set energy consumption thresholds without compromising tenant comfort levels.
“Understanding the [wasted] energy consumed after hours is also a significant factor in reducing a ‘typical’ building’s energy consumption and one Rialto has significantly benefited from,” she says.
Wallbank says an advantage of the building managers being able to more effectively utilise data from the automated system is less time is spent on establishing problems, and more time can be put into assisting tenants to meet their goals.
Targeting the NABERS stars
Rialto currently has a 3.5 star NABERS Waste rating, and is looking to improve for its next re-rating, due to be complete next month.
Brennan says the building managers are currently developing a new strategic waste management plan, and will be exploring technology options for monitoring and reporting on waste as part of the plan’s development.
The building currently has a 2.5 star NABERS Energy rating, and is seeking to maximise this, however a commitment agreement is not yet in place, Jensen says.
It also has a 2.5 star NABERS rating for water, and this is also slated for improvement.
Sustainability consultancy Ausnviro managing director Jay Gualtieri says that in the five years his firm has been working with Rialto on its NABERS audits, documentation, performance protocols and assisting with wording for leases, the team has consistently shown leadership.
Gualtieri says the building managers were early adopters of NABERS Waste and IEQ.
“They were happy to stick their necks out and find out where they stood,” he says, adding that it was “trailblazing” at the time.
The owners and managers were also not motivated by trying to protect the building’s reputation for environmental performance or position the asset for sale, he says.
Gualtieri says they take a “very, very long-term view” of the environmental efficiency of the asset.
The metering, for example, was a $1 million investment put in place three years ago.
“It is a very, very complex building.”
The metering helped give a better representation of the energy profile of the base building that enabled the team to find opportunities for increasing efficiency.
Monthly extracts from metering data reports are used at all environmental and engineering meets, he says. This makes a big difference compared to only having data when the bills arrive.
He says that with any big asset like this, it can take a while to create change and watch it flow through into performance outcomes.
This is true in terms of programs working with tenants on energy use as well. Rialto having 40-odd tenants over 80,000 sq m of commercial space means it has “a lot of moving parts”.
The facilities management practices he says are reflected in the NABERS IEQ rating, which was four stars in the first year and five in the second. Replacing filters and controls have been a key element in achieving the scores, Gualtieri says.
He says it shows a building doesn’t need to be brand new to have high IEQ, and that while a four or five star rating might be something you could expect to see in a five or six-year-old building, it’s not what people expect from a 30-year-old one.
“It shows [they] really have their finger on the pulse.”
Even before attempting the IEQ rating, testing had been carried out, he says.
The NABERS Waste rating is another feather in the team’s cap, he says. The first waste benchmark three years ago showed a low recycle rate and a high contamination rate.
A strategic waste management plan was put in place that included getting the cleaners onboard and a tenant-focused campaign, and this saw the recycle rate go up, and contamination drop to three per cent – two per cent lower than the benchmark allowed by the waste contractor.
This has fed through into a cost abatement for tenants, Gualtieri says.
“It shows the beauty of benchmarking.”
Age is no barrier to performance
Gualtieri says Rialto is a “timeless building” that was designed and constructed with long-term thinking, unlike many buildings of its era.
Before sustainability was a buzzword, the owners were onto it, he says.
“Timelessness has a big sustainability element too.”
Gualtieri says he thinks the team’s achievements will take others in the property sector along on the journey of improving performance.
“Older buildings can do sustainability.”
It is an example that puts more emphasis on smart sustainability being retrofitted while retaining an existing asset.
Wallbank says there is a perception in the market that “old buildings can’t perform”, however Rialto’s owners have taken an “informed view” of their asset.
“Each owner takes a different view of their assets in terms of strategy and funding and JLL believes the [Rialto Joint Venture] have demonstrated what is possible when you take a market leading approach to the renewal of an icon.”
Age is no impediment to making a building commercially and environmentally sustainable, and with icon buildings such as Rialto they generally come with great potential to meet and exceed market needs, if the upgrade pathway is carefully selected to build on the original asset strength while leveraging the latest technology and efficiency gains Wallbank says.