Archive for the ‘Green Design’ Category

A high-rise built with a timber structural frame

March 5, 2011

Flipping through the property section of the Australian Financial Review a few days ago (28/2/2011), this project being developed at the former Carlton United Breweries site in the north of Melbourne’s central business district caught my eye. The project is called Delta, a ten level apartment building being developed by Grocon who is well known for developing and constructing Melbourne’s Eureka Tower – the tallest building in Melbourne and one of the tallest in the southern hemisphere.

Delta, a passive house design to be constructed using timber. (Source: Architecture & Design)

What’s unique about this structure is that the contractors (also Grocon), are attempting to have the structure supported entirely by timber above the bottom couple of floors. Grocon is calling this design “passive house”, reflecting the fact that the soft-wood timbers from which the building will be constructed from is natural and not a material that emits carbon dioxide emissions in its creation – unlike concrete and steel.

The building will also heat and cool itself as the design will be insulated and the timbers will not absorb and release heat into the building in the way that other materials such as steel and concrete do. As a result, the building will reduce energy consumption in both the construction and operational stages and is expected to be carbon neutral. If built, Delta would become the tallest timber structure of its kind in the world.

The passive house design has been in use across Europe for about 20 years now, but has never before been attempted in Australia. Because of this, the specially manufactured and polished timbers will likely be imported from Europe. With carbon pricing looking a real possibility of being introduced in Australia, designs such as these may become more common.

Oh, and by the way, the soft-wood timbers are meant to be fire proof!


Australian Financial Review

Architecture & Design


Adelaide: University of Adelaide’s new 6 star green star rating building, Innova 21

July 4, 2010

Innova 21 is a leader in the next generation of modern sustainable structures.

Opened on June 14, the new Innova 21 building stands at the heart of the North Terrace campus of the University of Adelaide. It is an eight level building valued at AU$100 million that is the new home of the university’s Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences (ECMS) and the largest project that has been undertaken at the university to date. Amongst the continuous disruption that all the construction has created at the university campus over the past two and half years the final product, so far at least, appears to be well worth the wait for the university’s staff and students.

Innova 21 features many firsts for Australia in building design that make it a leader in the next generation of sustainable structures. The building is the first educational facility to receive a 6 star green star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia and one of a few buildings given this rating alongside others such as the Melbourne Convention Centre and Sydney’s Space office building at 1 Bligh Street. Sustainable features in Innova 21’s design include:

  • Internal cooling loops built into the concrete floors (Active slab technology)
  • Underfloor air distribution system for natural air ventilation
  • Double-glazed curtain glass wall to allow natural light into the building whilst keeping the heat out
  • Rainwater harvesting through a 500,000L underground water tank for toilets and irrigation
  • A Tri generation plant on the roof which provides electricity, heating and cooling for the building
  • An inflated ETFE roofing system (air between two layers of ETFE) for the next exhibition hall, which is the same method that was applied for the exterior walls of Beijing’s Water Cube
  • A Building Management System (BMS) which is a built in system to reduce the building’s energy consumption

The sustainable elements of the design not only feature in the completed product, but also in its construction. The concrete used in the building contains flyash, a byproduct from burning coal which would otherwise be wasted in landfills. This flyash makes concrete stronger and reduces the need for the use of Portland cement which is a major producer of greenhouse gases in the construction industry.

Some parts of the building are not presently open at the time of writing (the computer suites) but the way it blends in with its surroundings is stunning, particularly where the new exhibition hall in the building connects to the existing brick facade of the much older Engineering North Building. The following photos are of the building’s construction in August 2008:

The following photos are following the building completion in June 2010:

The exhibition space that provides a stunning constrast between the old and new.

Looking up at the ETFE roof that hangs over Innova 21's exhibition space.

There will be more photos in the future as more parts of the building open for use.

Putting Australia’s population growth issues in a global context

June 29, 2010

It’s amazing to me how distorted the perspective of many Australians are with regard to a lot of global issues. This can be seen most recently with the debacle surrounding the quality of umpiring in the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa and the number of people putting the blame on the referees for the Socceroos’ (Australia’s football team) losses and early exit from the tournament. Likewise, a misinformed view about Australia’s population growth exists amongst much of the current population which was evident in the discussions and debates that followed former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s words in supporting a “Big Australia”.

I’ll let this wonderful article from Worldchanging about the phenomenal growth of China’s population and cities speak for itself. It makes the problems that Australians think that their own cities have rather laughable. (That isn’t to say that Australia doesn’t have any problems!)

To summarise the article and put things in perspective:

  • China is expected to add 350 million people to its cities over the next 20 years and have 220 cities with more than 1 million people. That’s Australia’s current population more than 15 times over, and Australia is expected to still have only 5 cities with over 1 million people in 2030. The expected increase of 13 million people in Australia to 2050 is barely a drop in the ocean in comparison.
  • China covers an area of 9.6 million sq km compared to Australia’s 7.7 million sq km. Yes, China may be a bit bigger but it also has about 60 times as many people as Australia. Large parts of China are also occupied by deserts as much of Australia is.
  • China not only has the water issues that Australia has but also major issues such as funding and building the required infrastructure (the transit systems, schools, hospitals, community centres, utilities), finding enough food sources, homes and energy for its growing cities.
  • On top of this, China has 16 of the 20 world’s polluted cities and has a lot of work in cleaning up while it grows. Desertification is occurring rapidly and some parts of the country are affected by acid rain.

Some may say the comparison isn’t a fair one but I believe it is. Ever heard someone say “It’s not about the amount of space, but the way you use it”? The same can be applied for population growth, and for the most part Australians are not very efficient in how they use their space and resources. Instead of sticking to the status quo and trying to imagine a future in which the way we live remains the same it is time for a serious rethink in how we live and how we structure our cities.

Australia doesn’t have enough water to support more people you say? There’s a large amount of water resources in the relatively underpopulated areas to the north of the continent, and there’s also ways of using what water we do have a lot better, water treatment and recycling being a great example that other nations with hardly any water such as Singapore have been investing in.

I’m not entirely sure why so many Australians tend to be so unworldly in their views. Maybe we really are more of an isolated island nation than we think! The issue of Australia’s population growth is more about how we plan to go about managing the growth, rather than the size of the growth itself.


Worldchanging – A Climate-Neutral China

London: Personal rapid transit (PRT)

June 27, 2010

Personal rapid transit may be a the way of the future of urban transportation. (Source: ULTra Personal Rapid Transit System)

Most of us are familiar with forms of mass transport such as the bus, train and tram. They no longer exist in Australia, but some will also remember the trolleybuses that once rolled through the streets of some cities. Another one that is not common is the monorail, which has only ever been developed as serious mass transit in Japan, but for the most part it has just been used for tourist purposes.

One of the more recent forms of mass transit that is currently being trialled, but has not yet been implemented on a large scale in any city is personal rapid transit vehicles (or PRT). They involve the use of small automated vehicles  (with no driver) running between two locations on a guideway network.

The key differences between this form of public transport and existing forms are that each vehicle carries a small number of people (usually 4-6 at most) and they can run to a requested location on the network on demand instead of running a fixed route with numerous stops. This minimises time wastage waiting for services to arrive and speeds up journey times.

On the guideway, the vehicles can detect each others presence and operate safely at 2-3 second headways. In this way, the system operates more gently than other forms of transport which are often stop-start and run several minutes apart rather than every few seconds.

In addition to the operational advantages, the PRT vehicles use rechargeable batteries which are charged up when vehicles are stopped at stations or other specified charge up points along the guideway. This provides the potential for various clean forms of energy to be used in providing the battery power for the vehicles.

At Heathrow Airport in London, this PRT system has been introduced on a small scale. A 4km long section of track has been built between the new Terminal 5 with its business carpark and if successful the system may be expanded to serve the rest of this giant airport and the surrounding communities. The following video shows how the system operates in London:

If the pilot project at Heathrow is successful, other cities may follow suit and introduce it to relieve congestion in cities where providing extra public transport in other forms has previously not been feasible. Some cities such as Guragon City in India and numerous cities in the US have already expressed their interest in building these systems.


ULTra Personal Rapid Transit System

Hong Kong: Living green on a very small scale

June 20, 2010

Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, but offers huge potential for going green.

With each passing year, it seems that there is an ever increasing expectation for people to “go green” within the homes that we live in. Often, the ideas that most people think of are solar panels on roofs (at least in Australia where there’s plenty of sunlight, anyway), installing rainwater tanks, driving less and using less fuel, recycling and using other “green” products. Going further, some will create spaces that are made from recycled and non-energy intensive manufactured materials, and designing the home with a focus on using as little energy during the day-to-day operations of the home by getting it right from the start. In Hong Kong though, one architect has taken this concept of living green to the extreme.

Maybe you’re wondering why the title of this post reads “green on a very small scale” and why bother talking about it if the impact is so small. The title doesn’t refer to the level of impact, but rather the very small size of the home about to be discussed. Some time ago, I was linked through to this really fascinating video of a Hong Kong architect named Gary Chang who converted his tiny apartment in the Sai Wan Ho district of Hong Kong Island into a “Domestic Transformer”. His home features walls which can moved around to form 24 different layout combinations which maximises the value of the 30 sq m available to him whilst minimising energy use.

A bit of background about Hong Kong – Hong Kong is a densely packed city of 7 million people living in a built up area of only about 200 sq km, much of which has been reclaimed from its famous Victoria Harbour and the South China Sea. Compare that with the biggest metropolitan area in the world by population, Tokyo, which has 35 million people covering about 7800 sq km and you get the idea of how much denser Hong Kong is than most large cities. Much of this area includes the busy ports, commercial areas and industry that give Hong Kong its economic might, leaving an even smaller area just for homes. As a result, apartment buildings can be very tall, very densely packed and the individual apartments end up being very small. For Hong Kong residents, this is just part of every day living and they have learned to cope with the small spaces. The following video just goes to show how even the smallest of spaces have huge potential for being environmentally friendly.