Sustainable by design: Green architecture
Believe what you want about climate change; there’s no doubt that enough people in the world are after sustainable architecture and construction to make it a high demand market. The market is growing for services, materials and technology that lead to an increase in the life of a building, require less maintenance and fewer resources, and boost occupants’ quality of life and productivity.
Australia’s reputation in the space is unsurprisingly strong considering the environment in which our architects grew up. “Compared with other countries, Australia is nutrient poor, we have water issues, and generally speaking we need to design with the point of view of preserving resources,” says John Bilmon, managing director of PTW Architects. “All architecture should have an eco-consciousness. Sustainability should be the heart of any development.”
Australian architecture and engineering have focused on the careful husbandry of resources for more than four decades, says Bilmon. “I’m coming from a school of thought influenced by my Australian educational process. We’re driven more by the philosophy that all buildings need to be sustainable.”
The Green Building Council of Australia’s Advocacy and International executive director Robin Mellon believes that a combination of our frugality and the small size of our industry has resulted in a faster uptake of innovative practice.
“Scarcity can be a weakness—scarcity of energy, of water, of resources—but scarcity also breeds innovation,” he says. “We’re a very small country in terms of the industry. When we see innovation coming through, especially a technology or even innovation in methods, it tends to go through the industry quite quickly.”
In combination with our diverse climate, fast innovation uptake is “a huge advantage” in the architecture and construction space, he says. “While we’re the driest inhabited continent on the planet, we also have this huge range from Tasmania, which has colder winters and warmer summers, through to the tropical north, then the very dry west, and the more temperate climate. We can adapt innovation very quickly to different climates.”
Fortunately, all this stacks up to a world-class reputation, which the industry can leverage in a global market. “Australian buildings are seen overseas as world leaders; it’s just as much about what they’re made of and their durability as it is about their design and the services that went into them,” says Mellon. “Buildings we give six green stars would stack up easily against any building in China or the US or the UK or Germany.”
Bilmon agrees and says our reputation is “pre-eminent in sustainable developments”. This will stand us in good stead, especially in Asian markets where demand is rising.
China and beyond
China is leading Asia with its sustainable agenda, closely followed by a number of developing countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, as well as Japan and Taiwan. Although government initiated the demand, Bilmon says consumer demand is now just as prominent. “The ongoing cost of maintaining and operating that product is now part of the sales pitch for real estate. It has been driven not only through a government desire, but also by the community response.”
Australia is fortunate to be in a good position to take advantage of this surge of interest, largely because we planted some of the seeds, he explains. “The great thing about the Australian education experience is the vast numbers of foreign students who study with us and take that knowledge and that thought process back to their home countries. The students are now leading corporations and government bodies in Asia and they bring with them the firm desire and belief in sustainable outcomes.”
Despite increasing competition, this is true, says Mellon. “We have a lot of delegations who come from not just the Asia-Pacific but around the world to look at Australian buildings and talk to Australian companies and service providers because we are seen as world leaders. Australia genuinely has an advantage because we’ve been looking at it for much longer, in a much more holistic, much more integrated way.”