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EDG NEWS - ISSUE 73

JULY 2012

In the News

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BEMP

The Australian Institute of Architects and other industry advocates for built environment sustainability met with parliamentarians last week at BEMP.

Anu and her team

UQ students will be helping to build a full-scale model of senior lecturer Anupama Kundoo's Wall House at this year's Venice Beinnale.

Built Environment Meets Parliament

Built Environment Meets Parliament

Industry professionals and parliamentarians gathered together at Parliament House on Wednesday 27 June for the annual Built Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) summit. The influential gathering offered a unique opportunity to explore the economic, social, environmental and governance issues that influence national prosperity. Focusing on technology and digital tools, the day-long summit featured 22 industry and government experts.

At the event, The Hon Anthony Albanese, MP Minister for Infrastructure and Transport launched the Green Star - Communities rating tool developed by the GBCA to drive more sustainable, productive and liveable communities.

BEMP 2012 also provided an ideal forum for the ASBEC (The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council) Climate Change Adaptation Framework to be unveiled. This is a new policy framework addressing the impact of climate change on the built environment.

Once again the annual mix of government and industry professionals who were present at BEMP gave rise to questions and concepts surrounding the built environment. One thing is clear - it is up to all members of the building industry to keep asking questions, keep developing solutions and to keep putting pressure on government to ensure we create the best possible environment for Australian communities.

For more information on BEMP, simply visit bemp.com.au.
The Institute gratefully acknowledges the support of BEMP Platinum Sponsors BlueScope Steel

Launch 1: Climate Change Adaptation Framework

Built Environment Meets Parliament

ASBEC - the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council - has launched a ten-point framework aimed at improving the resilience of urban communities against extreme weather events and climate change.

The launch was held in Canberra, at the annual Built Environment Meets Parliament (BEMP) conference.

Speaking at the launch, ASBEC President Tom Roper explained the need for government to get behind resilient design. 'Suburbs and buildings are still being designed and created based on past climatic experience when we should be thinking of how they will respond to future climatic events, so we can be resilient in 20, 30, 40 years down the track'.

David Parken, Chair of the Climate Change Task Group and CEO of the Australian Institute of Architects, said 'While industry and the community have their roles to play, it is government... that needs to show leadership. This document outlines effective steps the government can take to protect Australia's economic and environmental sustainability.'

Despite some positive steps by government to address mitigation, adaptation remains low on the public policy agenda. With the replacement cost for Australia's built environment estimated in excess of $5.7 trillion, the economic, social and environmental risks posed by climate change are huge.

The Climate Change Adaptation Framework proposes the establishment of a National Built Environment Adaptation Council to facilitate consultation between industries, government and communities, to sponsor research, and be a driver for change.

ASBEC is calling for a coordinated, well-resourced, and nationally consistent suite of policies to ensure that the built environment is protected from climate change risks. The ASBEC framework offers a roadmap to help government and stakeholders work together to achieve that end.

http://www.asbec.asn.au/

Launch 2: Green Star - Communities

The GBCA has registered its first Green Star - Communities pilot project.

The Loop Precinct is a 40,000 square metre development at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets in Canberra. Rock Development Group's plan for the precinct includes Green Star-rated buildings, electric vehicle recharge points, a residential car pooling scheme, precinct-wide energy generation, water capture and waste management, and a focus on healthy, active living.

The Green Star - Communities rating tool was officially released on 14 June. It assesses the sustainability performance of a project against five categories, plus a sixth for Innovation:

  • Governance
  • Design
  • Liveability
  • Economic Prosperity
  • Environment
  • Innovation

www.gbca.org.au/green-star/green-star-communities/rating-tool

Leadership in Sustainability Prize open for nominations

Every year, the Australian Institute of Architects offers the Leadership in Sustainability Prize, which recognises an individual's outstanding achievement in built environment sustainability, whether through their architecture, advocacy, educational work or community engagement.
The 2013 prize is open for entries from 4 August until 12 September 2012.

Individuals and/or groups demonstrating exceptional leadership and an outstanding contribution to the advancement of sustainability of the built environment may be nominated or may apply (self-nominate) for this prize. Nominations are sought for excellence in the achievement of the:

  • creation and advancement of knowledge through research and education
  • development and deployment of effective advocacy and policy
  • development and implementation of effective practice
  • engagement of industry and or the community with this knowledge, advocacy or practice

It's easy to enter, for more information click here.

UQ to build full-scale building at Venice Biennale

Anu and her team

A full-scale model of Anupama Kundoo's Wall House in Auroville, India, will be built inside the Venice Biennale by a team of University of Queensland staff and students, Italian students and Indian tradespeople.

'I am really excited to be able to enable students to witness something being made at the biennale,' said Dr Kundoo, who is a senior lecturer at the university.

'In all these years of teaching architecture I have felt a real lack of opportunities for students, not only in being present at sites where architecture is produced but also in the way they don't get to confront materials at all.'

The Wall House fuses low-tech sustainable building materials and traditional labour techniques with advanced passive design concepts.

The UQ School of Architecture is currently seeking sponsorship support for the biennale project. Contact Jonathan Cosgrove, Director of Advancement, on j.cosgrove@uq.edu.au.

Sustainable design fact sheets released

A new suite of sustainable design fact sheets has been jointly developed by Melbourne's four inner-city councils.

The fact sheets provide detailed advice on sustainable building design requirements that should be addressed during the early design process and when lodging a planning permit application. They have been developed to suit all project types and scales.

Each fact sheet addresses one of the councils' 10 'Key Sustainable Building Categories'. They are available for download at the Inner Melbourne Action Plan (IMAP) website.

Geoff Clark interview, Pt 2

In the April issue of EDG News we published a wide-ranging and provocative interview with former Troppo architect and University of Tasmania lecturer Geoff Clark. Space didn't permit all of the interview to be published at that time, but the response to the first part has been so positive (along the lines of 'thank God someone is saying it!') that we are happy now to include the second part.

Subjectivity and objectivity

One of the great difficulties with architecture is the fact that we bridge subjectivity and objectivity. We are not able to simply sculpt, to have no obligation to performance, nor are we able to design a building based entirely on functionality, with no consideration of aesthetics or style. And the problems come when we fail to articulate that these are two very different things.

I always try to give new recruits the chance to design, and to present their design to a client. I let them make the mistake of presenting their design based on its appearance. The chances of the employee's aesthetic tastes matching those of the client are very nearly zero. They always come back with their tail between their legs: 'They didn't like it'. But the point is not to make the client like something, the point is to solve their problems for them - and the client does not have a problem deciding what they do or do not like.

The alternative is to articulate how a design has solved identified problems.

Let me describe what might be a Troppo house, objectively:

  • The roof needs to come low on this edge of the building to protect the veranda from driven rain and low-level sun
  • The plan is stretched along the block to ensure that each room can ventilate independent of the others
  • The steep pitch ensures that any building up of heat occurs at the ceiling, not down in the occupied zones
  • Roof ventilators exhaust the hot air from high in the roof space
  • Construction is of timber so that the building does not hold heat late into the evening
  • Full height louvre windows allow 95% opening while also offering the capacity to control breeze and to exclude rain, even in the open position
  • By raising the building up we can achieve inexpensive useable space below, for hot or rainy days, or for the storage of bulky items

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to focus on appearance, or the subjective, and we describe buildings with this sort of language:

  • The roof overhangs come down low on this edge of the building, enhancing the sense of enclosure
  • The plan is stretched along the block, which makes the building look larger and more imposing
  • The steep pitch gives presence and expression to the building
  • Roof ventilators help the building take on the appearance of a country homestead
  • Construction is of timber, which enhances the rural look
  • Full height louvre windows give the impression of height
  • By raising the building, we signify our debt to Queensland vernacular architecture

While ever we rely on subjective opinions to argue our case, we are at risk of never reaching agreement.

In the event that we find that a client does not want 'full height louvre windows', for example, we may take the subjective approach and simply stamp our feet and insist, or we can say, objectively, whichever window system we choose, it must:

  • offer a large opening area (preferably 95%)
  • control the breeze so that the windows do not have to be shut when it is very windy
  • allow windows to be kept open even when it is raining without wetting the interior, because it is still hot when it is raining

These sorts of performance criteria can easily be agreed upon, and we may even find an alternative window arrangement that works equally well in the particular circumstance. And crucially, the design process will not fail due to differences of taste.

Having decided upon this approach, we are at liberty to debate aesthetic differences of opinion without compromising the outcome. We are able to acknowledge and accept that we each have different opinions, but that we agree on the performance criteria.

Thus the question for the architect is: 'Can I produce buildings that perform and still look beautiful?' (Mindful that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.)

There are now many, many other professions that are infiltrating the building design market. They are able to do this, I suspect, because they are focusing on solving the problem - meaning that they are being objective.

The needs in architecture are many and varied, and change from one project to the next, but the needs are never primarily aesthetic. And needs, as opposed to desires, are never subjective. This could in fact be said to be the definition of need - it can be articulated objectively.

There is a need for a roof to keep the rain out. We can all agree on this but, notwithstanding other performance requirements, the shape of the roof can often be determined subjectively. 'I think a vault would look nice.' The important thing is to confess that you would like a vault because...you would like a vault.

If, as a profession, we fail to acknowledge the difference between need and desire, between the objective and the subjective; if we continue to deny the paramount importance of the satisfaction of needs - client needs, council needs, builders needs, performance needs - our profession is at risk of irrelevance.

Both at the education level and at the level of the practicing architect we would do well to address this issue. Instead of continually suggesting that 'building designers', drafters, engineers, kit home designers, prefabrication specialists, transportable home specialists and the like are designing 'ugly' (subjectively speaking) buildings, we would do well to acknowledge that they are fulfilling a need - and that is why they are making such headway in the building design market.

If our profession were only to become needs focused, and addressed the needs that are currently being addressed by these other building industry professions, we might just claw back some of the ground that we have lost over the past decades - but there is much to claw back.

Economic rationalism has and will continue to squeeze out any extravagance in building design. It is time for our profession to state, categorically, that extravagance and subjectivity is not what we are about; to become problem solvers rather than problem makers; to acknowledge that needs become ever more pressing year by year; and that it is in the accommodation of need where the market will expand.

I would like and hope for my work always to be assessed primarily on the basis of objective criteria. I am happy to have an objective argument over anything, but if subjective opinion - aesthetics - becomes the grounds by which we and the rest of the world judge our work then I will truly despair. It will lead us to frivolity and irrelevance.

I wonder if it is possible for architects to become the voice of reason...again?

Objective versus Subjective
Performance   Appearance
Need   Desire
Cost   Value
Left brain   Right brain
Science   Art
Fact   Feeling

 

 

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