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July 2011

In the News

New Design Notes


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New to EDG - Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) has come a long way since comic books flogged X-Ray Specs to credulous kids. AR can help designers to test building concepts, and assessors to test buildings. Until recently most AR relied on expensive equipment. But the iPhone is rapidly changing that.

The Sun

This month we launch three new design notes, all with a solar theme. Our expert contributors give the lowdown on solar hot water, building-integrated photovoltaics and the legal right to solar access. It's an active solar technology special issue.

From the Editor


One subject has been consuming Editor EDG's attention this month: urban density.

Churchill once said, 'We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us'. The design and build quality of a house can make the difference between its occupants being active users of passive systems, or passive users of active systems. But the location of a house can have an even more profound effect on occupant behaviour.

Most green rating tools only measure a building's envelope. But the evidence shows that in environmental terms, a leaky house in a transit-orientated location trumps a well put together house in a car-dependent location.

The environmental, social and health benefits of denser, more walkable neighbourhoods are well documented. Here are three recent studies:

In Canberra last month representatives from the built environment sector, including the Institute of Architects and the Green Building Council, met with politicians at the BEMP forum to put the case for more 'liveable, affordable and sustainable' cities. We hope the politicians were listening, because the demand for denser neighbourhoods is moving well ahead of supply (see Flight-Back. Buyers Spurning the 'Burbs).

Michael Day

New Design Notes

This month we publish three notes on sustainable design for the built environment. All have a solar energy theme. Click on a title below and you'll be taken directly to the note's abstract on the EDG website.


Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) by Mark Snow and Deo Prasad

This note deals with architectural issues associated with photovoltaic (PV) power systems integrated into building design.

New photovoltaic materials offer new design options: the challenge for designers is to combine technological and architectural considerations to produce integrated applications in buildings. This note details the opportunities presented by new PV products and materials coming to the market.

See also Mark Snow's Continuum course, Integrating Solar Technology, a 90-minute audio-visual presentation specially prepared for the Institute of Architects.

Solar Hot Water by Mick Harris

Solar water heating is increasingly the preferred water heating option for new homes and retrofits. Whether mandated by government or specified by clients, solar hot water is something that every designer needs to consider. This note will help you to specify the right system for your design.

The Legal Right to Solar Access by Adrian Bradbrook

To ensure that solar collector panels are not shaded by obstructions on neighbouring properties and so rendered worthless (like the panels shown above), the right of solar access must be legally protected. This note explains the state of the law relating to the right of solar access to solar collectors, and the legal barriers to the use of solar energy.


Flight-Back. Buyers Spurning the 'Burbs

Back where it started (Image: Library of Virginia, VA)

The word 'sustainable' is not a synonym for 'green': it means having the capacity to endure. And the reason many people question the sustainability of suburban sprawl is because it lacks that capacity. As Griffith University's pioneering VAMPIRE (Vulnerability Assessment for Mortgage, Petroleum and Inflation Risks and Expenses) Index shows, your ability to ride out resource and economic shocks decreases the further out you go. The American H+T (Housing + Transportation) Index shows the same thing for the United States.

Australia and the US are both extremely car dependent societies. They are geographically large countries whose cities grew up alongside the automobile. Housing affordability was addressed with one simple prescription: 'Drive till you qualify'. Developers and builders fed the demand: first with the quarter acre block, then the 450 sq m house. But there is strong evidence to suggest that consumers are no longer happy with this model.

In the US, The Wall Street Journal reported in January that 'Millennials', the latest tag for Gen Ys, are proving a hard sell for suburban developers. The Journal quoted a real estate adviser, Melina Duggal, who said, '88 per cent want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit … will do just fine'. The problem is that the American suburban development sector is not set up to provide this.

A recent Grattan Institute report, 'The Housing We'd Choose', shows that Australia has the same problem. There is a mismatch between what consumers are demanding and what developers are geared to supply. The report states, 'If we are serious about shaping our cities in the directions residents say they want to see, the incentives facing developers would have to change'.

The research is unequivocal: for viable, walkable communities you need a density of 30+ houses per hectare (Melbourne's Brunswick and Sydney's Newtown have densities of around 35 houses/ha). This level of density will provide an adequate catchment for walk-to-able shops, schools, public transport etc. However as Simon McPherson, author of Shall We Dense, pointed out in a talk he gave to the Institute of Architects last month, the averages for new developments range from one half to two-thirds of this.

McPherson's advice to architects wishing to drive density was to talk up the benefits of smaller, better designed habitats.

US entrepreneurs are already getting busy feeding demand. Walk Score, a Seattle startup, has developed an iPhone app that uses Google maps to rate the walker-friendliness of a home's surrounds. Its ratings are fast becoming a feature of realtors' sign boards, and the app works just as well here as it does in the States. Just as Green Star is doing for green buildings, Walk Score is helping to drive consumer preference for more sustainable communities.

The tide is turning. Walkability, lifestyle and amenity are turning the tables on size and scale. Time for the developers to get on board.


A High-Performance Built Environment Requires Stronger Policy

Trent Hawkins

One hopes that the main question being asked at the annual Built Environment Meets Parliament Conference in Canberra last month was: why are we still building low-performance housing?

At a time when the cost of electricity continues to rise, high-performing energy-efficient homes offer much needed respite from cost-of-living pressures, while responding to the challenges of the climate crisis.

The Labor government needs to take the side of ordinary Australians and set clear efficiency standards and reform the incentives for the building industry. Only then will Australians get comfortable and affordable housing that is climate-friendly.

In May this year, Victoria joined the rest of Australia in introducing a 6-star building standard for new homes, renovations and additions. The 6-star standard replaced the redundant standards that were employed in various incarnations across the states. The standard set out by the building commission may be reached by implementing certain measures in the construction of new buildings; such measures include orientation, insulation, draught-proofing, window design, shading and selection of building fabric materials.

However, while all of these measures are essential for energy efficient homes, the 6-star standard requires that only some of these measures are undertaken. New buildings must have either a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank for toilet flushing, not both. Yet both of these systems together, as well as being environmentally positive, are financially beneficial for homeowners. The insinuation of such half-hearted policy efforts speaks either of dangerous ignorance or a simple lack of concern from our political leaders.

Furthermore, the 6-star standard is assessed and approved at the design stage and leaves the actual implementation of these strategies at the discretion of the client and their builder/contractor. Checking the installation to ensure high performance itself is not compulsory. A simple thermal heating test should be adopted to ensure that completed buildings actually comply with energy efficiency standards, while also highlighting any shoddy workmanship. The lack of enforceable policy on these matters highlights the government's noncommittal attitude to serious building standards and illustrates the greater need for post-occupancy assessment.

At the moment, the vast proportion of Australia's residential market is controlled by volume building companies. Metricon Homes currently spruik 'seemingly unlimited space' as an investment - completely disregarding an investment in a low-emissions future. Similarly, Henley Homes' advertising catchphrase is 'more home, more value'. At some point, building and selling over-sized homes becomes more profitable than building reasonable-sized houses and volume builders like Metricon are capitalising on this. By up-selling consumers on superfluous add-ons, they encourage an attitude of excess which, in turn, demonstrates the failings of Australia's star ratings.

A new buildings strategy needs to be adopted and the Gillard government has the opportunity to champion a consistent national green building policy. Scrapping the star rating system and quoting to homeowners their actual predicted energy consumption from heating and cooling systems is an option worth exploring. By placing heating, lighting and appliances on separate circuits and installing new meters, it would be possible for energy-efficiency standards to be properly measured and adjusted. Residents would be empowered as they monitor their energy use and better understand the energy performance of their home.

The Gillard government must look beyond the current focus on the carbon tax and re-engage with our built environment. Improving building standards will be needed regardless of the final form of the carbon-pricing scheme.

In the United Kingdom, the government has recognised the role that building efficiency standards will have to play to achieve their 50 per cent emissions target by 2027. The residential sector contributes about 20 per cent of the UK's total carbon emissions; in Australia, that figure is around 11 per cent. Given that the technology for achieving energy efficient housing is widely known, used and tested, the housing sector clearly presents an excellent opportunity for reducing emissions. The technology is there and so are the appropriate buildings standards. Voluntary green building certification standards already exist, such as the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). Britain is in the process of releasing its definition of zero-carbon housing (to be enforced from 2016), while countries of severely cold climes have been doing all of this for decades.

Whatever your incentive, energy efficient building design and sustainable performance is an absolute no-brainer: it would reduce Australia's total carbon emissions and lessen the strain of a transition to renewables and current dependence on fossil fuels. It would also present energy savings for bill payers and more healthy and comfortable homes. This also has mutual benefits for the government: a healthier population and more breathing room for the transition to renewables.

We need the Prime Minister to engage in committed, long-term investment in building standards in order to secure an energy efficient future. The low performance homes of the late 20th century are antecedents of homes built in a period in which electricity costs were so low that efficiency measures were inconsequential. The Gillard government needs to view strong zero-carbon building standards as an investment in Australia's climate and energy security.

Trent Hawkins is Project Director for Beyond Zero Emissions' Zero Carbon Australia - Buildings Plan. Beyond Zero Emissions is a not-for-profit climate solutions think tank working on a 10-year roadmap to a zero carbon future for Australia.

National News

Australia's First Zero-Carbon Development Gets Go Ahead

Victoria's Planning Minister Matthew Guy set aside the recommendations of an expert panel to give approval in May to Australia's first zero-carbon housing development, the Cape Paterson Ecovillage project.

The ecovillage is proposed for a site at Cape Paterson, between Inverloch and Wonthaggi.

A planning panel investigating the Ecovillage cited concerns that 'the development is poorly located having regard to other environmental impacts and hazards, and in terms of integration with the township… These factors outweigh the positive elements of the Amendment.'

The minister did not agree.

Houses in the development will achieve a minimum of 7.5 stars. Depending on block orientation, a significant number will achieve more than that. A maximum site cap of 185m2 (with 110 to 140m2 standard) will help keep prices comparable to those of conventional estates. The architect for the project is Henry Architects.

Other features of the development include:

  • 2kW PV per house, minimum
  • 10k water storage per house, minimum
  • Dogs/cats banned
  • Powered clothes driers banned
  • 60 per cent of development site to be non-occupied and repaired/re-vegetated to original species

Web: www.capepatersonecovillage.com.au

Sydney Office Building to Go Off-Grid

Architect's render of the 161 Castlereagh Street redevelopment

Grocon and the GPT Group have unveiled plans to refurbish the heritage listed Legion House in central Sydney as a carbon neutral building. In an Australian first for a CBD office building, Legion House will create on-site renewable power for all its needs through biomass gasification technology.

Grocon CEO Daniel Grollo said the building would be disconnected from the mains electricity grid, with the surplus power created to be supplied to the adjoining 161 Castlereagh Street office tower. Said Mr Grollo, 'We are keen to future proof this project to deal with what will become an increasingly carbon-constrained economy'.

Grocon will be working with sustainability consultants Umow Lai and architects FJMT on the project.

In recent years Grocon has gained enormous publicity thanks to a swag of innovative, high-profile green projects. Most recently, its Pixel building took out the 2011 Sustainability award in the Institute of Architects' Victorian awards. (For more 2011 State award winners, see Awards and Competitions).

Industry Calls for a Minister of Cities

The GBCA, Institute of Architects and other ASBEC (Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council) member organisations have issued an urgent call for a Federal Minister and Department for Cities and Urban Development.

The groups claim there is a significant lack of policy co-ordination across all levels of government, which currently includes 45 federal programs and strategies, and innumerable state and local programs.

The launch in May of the Federal Government's Our Cities, Our Future policy brought muted responses from industry stakeholders, with the consensus that the document was long on sentiment but short on detail.

The GBCA's Executive Director of Advocacy and International, Robin Mellon, while welcoming the Federal Government's sponsorship of the Green Star - Communities project and other sustainability initiatives, said that Canberra needed to take a stronger lead in urban policy: 'True sustainability requires an integrated strategy for long-term financial, social and environmental benefits across the country'.

Little Building Makes a Big Splash

An eye-catching little restaurant that sprung up like a mushroom on Sydney Harbour has gained widespread attention for its small footprint design.

Greenhouse is a restaurant that serves local produce processed on-site, but the real difference with this eatery is the strawbale building that houses it. According to US sustainability blogs Treehugger and Jetson Green, who both profiled Greenhouse: 'It's a permaculture-styled building concept developed by Australian designer Joost Bakker which uses non-toxic, recycled and recyclable materials, is easily assembled and dismantled'.

So popular is the little restaurant that it has already featured on TV's MasterChef.

Greenhouse is designed to be a moveable feast, and is already slated for transportation to a number of European cities where it will be reassembled using local materials, to serve local fare.

Web: http://joost.com.au

International News

GE's New LED Lights Set to Replace Fluorescents

LED ceiling troffer from GE

The days of fluorescent light appear to be numbered, with GE announcing the release of its new high-efficiency LED lighting range. GE claims the benefits of the new lights include longer life, slimmer profile, innovative form factors, full dimming capability and architectural styling. Fixtures include materials that can be recycled at end of life, and do not contain any mercury, lead or glass.

The new lights are available as ceiling troffers and suspended fixtures, which can be customised to spread light across the entire lighting surface or focus it in specific locations.

Web: www.gelightingsolutions.com

Buildings Go Toe to Toe for Energy Efficiency

President Obama's Better Buildings Initiative, launched in February, went up another gear in May with the inaugural Battle of the Buildings competition, which will see 254 buildings across the US compete to be proclaimed the country's top energy saver. The competition is one of a suite of initiatives designed to make non-residential buildings 20 per cent more energy efficient over the next 10 years.

Reviews and Reports

Sun Seeker iPhone App

The hazards of urban living: having a close neighbour to the north. The yellow line shows the sun path on May 26, the day the shot was taken. Note the sun shining directly behind the brick wall. The blue line shows the sun path on the winter solstice. The green line shows the horizon.

'Augmented reality' is one of the highest trending buzzwords in tech these days. The reason is that, like the proverbial bionic implant, it has the potential to make the user 'better than he was before'. It adds new layers to our view of the world.

Wikipedia defines augmented reality as a 'live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, such as sound or graphics'.

A good example of an augmented reality viewer is the thermographic camera, which lets us see in infrared instead of visible light. In his presentation to the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors Conference this year, Adj. Prof. Alan Pears explained how a thermographic camera had helped him to improve the thermal performance of his house by identifying leaks and thermal bridges that previously went undetected. Clearly, no building assessor should be without one.

The drawback with most augmented reality, however, is that it usually requires expensive equipment and a skilled technician to operate it. But the iPhone is rapidly changing that.

Far from being a slick toy, the iPhone is a high-tech tool with a solid professional pedigree. The medical profession was one of the first to discover its myriad uses. There are literally dozens of apps that assist doctors, in practice, in the diagnosis and management of disease.

Now building designers are getting some apps of their own. First developed October 2009 by an Australian developer, OzPDA, the Sun Seeker: 3D Augmented Reality Viewer is one of those apps which, after you discover it, you wonder how you got by without it.

It is Friday as I write. I downloaded the Sun Seeker app last Sunday, and already my wife has forbidden me to use it or even talk about it in her company. It's that addictive.

So what does it do? It lets you view the sun's path from any site, for any day of the year. Simple… but so cool.

Here's how I used it. It so happens that we are planning an extension. We have a tentative plan to place solar panels on the roof of the extension. But the problem with our narrow, inner-suburban site is that we are partly overshadowed by a block of flats to the north. Would our panels be getting enough direct sunlight? It was a near thing, but by showing the winter sun creeping above the adjacent roofline at 11am on the solstice, the Sun Seeker confirmed they would be.

(Left:) '3D' view to the north of planned extension, past the flats opposite. The blue line shows winter solstice sun path, the yellow line shows autumn equinox sun path.
(Right:) View directly opposite (north) of planned clerestories. The blue line shows winter solstice sun path, the yellow line shows the sun path the day the shot was taken (May 26).

'What about the clerestories?' I wondered. These north-facing windows at 2.6m above floor level are our best chance of getting some decent light into our overshadowed little terrace. So I got on a ladder and pointed Sun Seeker at the flats opposite. Hallelujah! Three hours' of direct sunlight in mid-winter - the first direct winter sunlight to pierce this house in 140 years. Bring it on!

From there, I'll admit, I got a little crazy. Plantings, veggie patches, front and back windows… everything got the Sun Seeker treatment. I was a boy with a new toy - but some real work had also been done.

The best way to get your head around Sun Seeker is to try it for yourself. In addition to the '3D' view, shown above, the app has a 2D solar plotter and an augmented Google map view. The '3D' display also shows solar azimuth, compass points and elevation, which is constantly updated as you move and rotate your iPhone. The 2D view shows the shadow ratio and path length for every day of the year.

The 2D and map views are available on the Sun Seeker Lite app, which is free. But until you see the world in Sun Seeker '3D' you have not had the full augmented reality experience.

Reliability and usability are very good, considering that you can download and install the app in under a minute and be quite good at using it in less than an hour.

According to the developer, Sun Seeker's 'main inaccuracy is in the digital compass heading… This is typically reported by the [iPhone] as being accurate only to within +/- 25 degrees, although in practice (in non-magnetically-polluted spaces) it is often good to within several degrees, in which case it is near enough for almost all practical applications.'

It would be great to see the following addressed in future updates:

  • photo captures from the 3D view crop the crucial 'solar day selected' date from the top of the photo
  • photo capture is a two-step process - it would be better if it were one-click
  • screen captures of flat and map views have to be done with iPhone screenshot (Sleep+Home buttons), which only creates a png file, not a jpeg

Minor quibbles. Otherwise I have only praise for this ingenious, Australian-developed app.

Excluding x-ray specs, what is your dream augmented reality app?

Have you come across any really useful design-related apps?

Write to edg@raia.com.au


Awards and Competitions

The Australian Institute of Architects' 2011 State awards have been announced.
The winners in the Sustainable Architecture categories are:

NSW: Elamang Ave by Luigi Rosselli Architects (Milo Dunphy Award for Sustainable Architecture)
Vic: Pixel by Studio505; Hill Plains House by Wolveridge Architects
Qld: Dandiiri Contact Centre by Project Services (Harry S. Marks Award for Sustainable Architecture)
SA: The University of Adelaide Innova 21 by DesignInc; Christies Beach High School Environmental Learning Centre by Energy Architecture
WA: The Grove Library by Cox Howlett & Bailey Woodland (Walter Greenham Sustainable Architecture Award)
Tas: Tarremah Hall at Tarremah Steiner School by Morrison & Breytenbach Architects (won both the Public Architecture and Sustainable Architecture Awards)
ACT: The University of Canberra Microsimulation Centre (NATWSEM) by Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn; Franklin House by Jigsaw Housing
NT: Troppo Architects won the Tracy Memorial Award for St Mary's Catholic Primary School New Hall and Library, Reggio Emelia Early Learning Centre and Courtyard

Events and Training

Green Star Foundation Course

The Green Star Foundation Course is GBCA's flagship course. In this full day course you will learn the fundamentals of Green Star, and take the important first step toward becoming a Green Star Accredited Professional or Green Star Associate.

When and Where: Melbourne, 500 Collins St, 7 July; Sydney, 190 George St, 21 July
Web: www.gbca.org.au/education-courses

Integrating Solar Technology

Available on the Institute of Architect's Continuum site, in this presentation UNSW's Mark Snow uses international and local case study examples to make the case for the integration of solar technology in building design. He discusses the role of solar technology in achieving zero-emission buildings and outlines the current opportunities and barriers that impact on solar technology uptake. He also shows how solar technology can be truly integrated into building designs and gives tips on how to convince your clients to adopt the added value of solar applications for both residential and commercial contexts.

Course structure and materials: Flash presentation
Length of course: 1.5 hours
CPD: 1.5 formal points
Web: www.continuum.com.au

Making Cities Liveable Conference - Healthy Cities

The 4th Making Cities Liveable Conference will be a platform for government and industry sector professionals to discuss causes, effects and solutions that relate to population health, sustainability, natural resource management, transport, climate change and urban design. Delegates will examine the impact of urban and transport planning on the health and well-being of the population and the planet.

When: 28-29 July
Where: Noosa, Queensland
Web: www.healthycities.com.au

Wood Solutions 2011

One-day program featuring leading international and Australasian architects and engineers speaking on topics ranging from reducing carbon footprints, sustainable designs, new concepts using engineered timber, innovative products, durability and energy efficiency. Case studies and interactive panel sessions with property developers, architects and engineers. Keynote speaker: Hermann Kaufmann, internationally renowned Passivhaus designer.

When and Where: Adelaide, 5 September; Sydney, 6 September; Melbourne, 8 September
Web: www.woodsolutions2011.com.au

Property Council of Australia - Sustainable Development Conference

Full day event examining whether or not sustainable development considerations have now become an integral part of central business practices. Hear from respected property industry professionals, leading academics and notable government representatives.

When: 8 September
Where: Perth
Web: www.propertyoz.com.au

State Of Australian Cities (SOAC5) National Conference 2011

The State of Australian Cities is a national forum, held biennially, to share scholarship directed at the complex and multidimensional issues facing us as an urban nation.

When: 29 November to 2 December
Where: University of Melbourne
Web: http://soac2011.com.au

Building Simulation Conference 2011

The 12th bi-annual Conference of the International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA), will be co-hosted by IBPSA Australasia and the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air-Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH). The simulation of building performance is increasingly embedded in the design process through green rating tools, regulation and as a general means of optimising design. Building Simulation 2011 will explore current best practice and new horizons for the use of simulation to drive better building design.

When: November 14 to 16
Where: University of Technology, Sydney
Web: www.bs2011.org

International Events

UAI 2011 - The 24th World Congress of Architecture

Described as the 'Olympics of Architecture', the UIA World Congress is a major international architectural event that attracts around 10,000 architects, engineers, researchers and students.

Since the inaugural World Congress in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1948, it has taken place triennially in 23 different cities around the world.

On the theme of 'DESIGN 2050', UIA 2011 TOKYO will provide participants with opportunities to discuss the future of architecture and cities through various programs including keynote speeches, technical sessions, international competitions, workshops, exhibitions and tours.

When: 25 September to October 1
Where: Tokyo, Japan
Web: www.uia2011tokyo.com/en

World Sustainable Building Conference (SB11)

The World Sustainable Building Conference is run every three years (SB08 was held in Melbourne). It brings together the world's leading technical experts and researchers on sustainable built environments. It also summarises the results of multiple regional events in sustainable building.

When: October 18-21
Where: Helsinki, Finland
Web: www.sb11.org/sb11-helsinki


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