Build it (sustainably) and they will come

Last week I was lucky enough to score an invitation to tour the new Sustainability Learning Centre, under construction here in Hobart (thank you, day job!)

Developed as a partnership between the Department of Education, Greening Australia, the Catholic Education Office, the Association of Independent Schools of Tasmania and the CSIRO, the Centre will be a mixed educational, research and operational facility, attached to Hobart College. That’s pretty cool and all, but what makes the Centre so exciting and the reason for our tour is that the construction is a showcase of sustainable design in action.

The architects (morrison & breytenbach) are aiming for a 6-star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia, which would place the building in the “world leadership” category for environmentally sustainable design. To get this certification the building uses a range of clever designs and materials. Being able to get a look at the construction process to see how it’s done was fascinating!

Here are a few of the design aspects and construction techniques they’re using for the project:

  • Recycled building materials – all steel including the roofing, major structural timbers, bricks, crushed glass (as fill, aggregate and in concrete) and some insulation. Even the office desks will be made with recycled floorboards!
  • Passive solar design – floor-to-ceiling north-facing windows (double-glazed) with Trombe walls and other convective and radiative heat transfer structures, coupled with clever insulation (ceiling, under-floor, window frames, etc.) and venting systems to allow good thermal control (openable windows – how sadly novel in a modern building).
  • Alternative energy infrastructure – solar photo-voltaic cells, solar evacuated tubing water heating, underfloor water-based heating (powered by used cooking oil) and maximised sunlight.
  • Alternative building materials & techniques – clinka for insulating aggregate and ‘concrete’, PVC-free materials (polyethylene plumbing and e-cables), using screws and nails in place of adhesives, minimal steel and concrete use (mostly recycled)
  • Water saving – rainwater, greywater and blackwater capture, treatment and re-use, including water-garden filtering and small-scale drinking water treatment.

Sadly I forgot to grab my camera (first thing Friday morning is not my sharpest time) so I don’t have any photos to share. More disappointingly, there isn’t a web site for the project, so at present there’s no way yet to share all the great information and resources from the project with the wider public. Greening Australia are planning to put a site together soon though, and students at Hobart College have been able to study the design and construction as it progresses: a great hands-on way to build interest in and understanding of sustainable design.

I really hope this project gets some more promotion and the partners involved work to get information out about the techniques and materials used and the resources available for those of us interested in applying sustainable design principles to our own homes and projects. The people I spoke to seemed surprised that I thought it so important as “the information’s all out there”. Yes, there’s a lot of information out there, but without serious research or expertise it’s impossible to know what will and won’t work in a specific city or climate, or what is suitable and efficient to apply at domestic scales. It’s also hard to find information on what’s actually available in terms of resources, materials skills and knowledge in your local area, and to build those networks between designers, suppliers, builders and ourselves.

Hobart Bliss

Hobart’s highly variable climate can be tricky to design for: heatwaves, gales, summer snow, we get it all!

Hopefully Greening Australia Tasmania will get a suitable website going soon and we can all share in what’s been learnt through this project; meanwhile I’m happy to be sharing the many things I learnt last Friday. Most of all I’m very pleased to know that we have the knowledge, skills and determination to get a project like this happening in Hobart: little city on an island at the bottom of the world, far away from the environmental leading lights of Europe. If we can do it, with our small population, apparent skills shortage, shitty economy and the tyranny of distance, then most anywhere can. The key ingredient is finding the people with the drive and leadership to steer the idea to reality.

We need more people who believe that projects like this can be done, and finding that they exist might just have been the most exciting part of my little tour.

Have you thought about building ‘green’? Please share your projects, inspirations, experiences and resources!

8 Comments on “Build it (sustainably) and they will come

  1. I know that I would be very interested to know about building sustainably in Tasmania. I do love how insulation is a concept that has only really just started to be taken seriously down here. You’d think people down here would have realised back when the Europeans and North Americans were madly insulating their homes that insulation keeps homes cooler in summer too! Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have a warmer house in the cold winter months either. In any case, I’ll be forever hopeful on the subject. I would love for it to get to a point where I can no longer say that Australia is the coldest place I have ever lived and I grew up in the Great White North (Canada).

    • Hi! The spam trap ate your comment and I only just found it. 😦

      I still can’t get over the lack of insulation here in Tassie. It’s just madness to my mind. I grew up in the temperate climes of Tweed Heads and my parents insulated their house about 20 years ago. Perhaps Tasmanians would stop complaining so much about their power bills if they actually insulated and double-glazed their homes!

  2. Hey lady, Kate from Livejournal πŸ˜€

    I am managing a library that is getting a new ‘greener’ building next year, so I’m currently going through detailed design etc at the moment. The green standard is very difficult to live up to and due to our budget for this build this new library will have green aspects but we are not going for certification as it costs too much to do. There are three other builds in the works though and one of them is going for a 5 star green rating.
    Anyway, because of this I have bee to a few workshops and presentations on it and I find it pretty interesting. I hope one day we can afford to build our own home and I would like to incorporate as much sustainability as possible, focusing on our future needs such as passive energy and water savings.

    (ps! I have just started a new blog and I need you to make a badge so I can post it on there under the ‘blog love’ section! :P)

      • Grr, that’s annoying! One of the reasons I went with WP was because it allowed anonymous posting. Seems if there’s a WP cookie on your machine though it forces a log in. I think I shall send them an unhappy email.

    • Hello, hello! Though I think of you as Kate from Flickr, I’ve got to admit. How are you? I’ve missed your photos!

      I agree, actually getting accreditation is an expensive business that’s not always worth it (plus there are buildings out there with accredited designs that weren’t built to the design standard – I used to work in one that was supposedly 5-star but didn’t come close in reality). It’s nifty to see what sorts of ideas can translate to your own home though! Like you I’m still renting, but I have lots of ideas now for what to look for and what renovations to make when I eventually get a place of my own.

      (I like your new blog! I’ve bookmarked you. Will get on to making a button – promise! Does it just need to be a small image with a hyperlink?)

  3. Thanks for your nice experience to share with us. Really awesome article with plenty of informative things to be known for us.

%d bloggers like this: