Pixel on Grocon’s Melbourne Carlton brewery site, designed by Studio 505: a laboratory for new green architecture … “Nobody can tell you accurately what the financial impost will be of the cost of a carbon constrained economy,” says David Waldren

by Tina Perinotto

FAVOURITES – 6 May 2009 – Private developer Grocon is pushing ahead with its “laboratory” style environmental showcase building on Melbourne’s former Carton brewery site in Melbourne, in a move that it says anticipates a carbon constrained economy.

“Pixel,” on the northern fringe of the CBD, will be small in footprint, just 1000 square metres, but giant in the strides it will demonstrate to the construction and development industry, Grocon development manager, David Waldren, told TFE in a telephone interview from Melbourne.

“It will be a world first, not just an Australian first,” Waldren said.

Waldren said that in Europe many of the offsets claimed by carbon neutral buildings are generated by items such as photovoltaics, car parks and parklands so are really “an urban infrastructure.”

“Ours achieves carbon neutrality on its own footprint,” says Waldren.

But it will be more than a building, it will be a laboratory of green development features that can be tested for future Grocon developments as well as by potential construction clients and tenants alike.

“We’re designing things out of Pixel into the residential building [on the site] and designing out of Pixel for tenders, for us and for others, applying those lessons right into the construction team and how we are looking at how we scale up the initiatives such as chilled structure and the 100 per cent daylight – how do we scale that 1000 sq m laboratory to an 80,000 sq m laboratory?”

“It will be a display centre for innovative green technology and it will be our development office for the Carlton Brewery, which we will live in while we build the balance of the site,” Waldren says. “It will be the place that everyone visits.”

“All of that’s fantastic, to get a 5 and 6 and 7 star building…but unless you scale these things up it’s completely academic.”

Waldren says that Grocon has made a strategic decision to go “at a million miles an hour while we get through the GFC [global financial crisis]” recognising that “when we get out the other side we will be in a carbon constrained economy.”

“Eventually Australia will get a carbon constrained economy – there’s no question about that.

“So the development sector needs to address that buildings are the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Construction on Pixel will start in July and be complete by March next year.

Reed beds on the northern and western facade will filter water and cool surrounding air

Key sustainability features

Among the standout features will be water pipes built into the structure of the building for heating and cooling, capture of sewerage gases to provide half of the energy requirements for this, with the balance from solar panels, and water cleansing reeds that will also cool the air around them.

The building has been designed to be “incredibly responsive to the green agenda but not overtly different on the inside,” Waldren says.

The outside will be a different story.

People will think it is an “innovative and unusual building,” Waldren quips.

“It’s designed by Dylan Brady and Dirk Zimmermann of Studio 505 and they are going to be world famous.”

The facade will indeed be unusual, but perhaps not startling to those familiar with Federation Square. Studio 505’s principals, Dylan Brady and Dirk Zimmermann met while both worked on that distinctive building with its controversial “fractal” inspired exterior.

The services consultant was Shane Esmore of “green gurus” Umow Lai , says Waldren and the structural engineer was Van der Meer.

Grocon looked at the pioneer Melbourne City Council building, CH2, for leads of what to incorporate into its new “lab”.

“CH2 is a terrific experiment and it’s proving through the modelling and analysis on productivity that if you do actually improve the workspace as a consequence the work improves. It pays for itself.”

While the payback for CH2 was expected to be 10 years, the expectation now is that payback will be in seven years, Waldren says.

Waldren won’t discuss the capital cost but says, “Nobody can tell you accurately what the financial impost will be of the cost of a carbon constrained economy.”

What Grocon is doing is dealing with those inevitable future constraints today, he says.

Key features will include pipes built into the structure to carry water that is either heated or cooled.

Another will be the “incredibly efficient” systems for dealing with waste and water.

“Tiny blackwater treatment plants” on site are a real problem with the health authorities are becoming very concerned about micro distribution of water treatment, says Waldren.

“So at Pixel we are proceeding with a system that doesn’t treat the blackwater; it captures and harvests the gas from it and uses that gas to replace the use of natural gas for heating and cooling the water system.”

And the blackwater goes to the “the traditional, time-honoured health-approved sewerage system”, he adds.

The use of the captured gas means that there is no need for fossil fuel gas, to boost the solar hot water system.

Key Features

Gas from sewage used for heating and cooling

Energy Farm on the roof

Experimental grass plantings

No use of use of recycled air

Hot and cold water piped through the structure

Reed beds to cool air on the northern and western facade

An energy farm on the roof

Pixel designers enjoy the challenge of high environmental agenda

Studio 505 principal Dylan Brady who designed Pixel, along with his co-principal Dirk Zimmermann, said his firm was quite excited by the brief from Grocon for a building with a very high environmental agenda.

“It’s rare to find a client who doesn’t back out when push comes to shove,” says Brady, a former member of the Lab architects team, who met Zimmermann while designing the facade of Federation Square, where Zimmermann worked on design of the atrium.

For Brady, Pixel is also a rare chance to experiment with new techniques; such as the energy farm on the roof that will harvest both solar and wind power.

There is also the matter of the native grass planting on the roof to help keep heat down. The requirement to use no more water than can be captured from rain means that the types of grasses used, the soil mix and what happens to chemicals in the leaching process will be monitored by Melbourne University as an experiment for other developments.

Brady also likes the integration of the building, where each of the parts works in unison – from the hot or cold water that will be piped through the floor structure, the reed beds on the northern and western facade to filter water and cool the temperature, to the grass beds and green fittings.

Water will be collected, treated to potable standards and piped to kitchens.

“It’s not technically for drinking – it has a sign saying it’s rainwater – but we have been drinking rainwater since the beginning of time.”

In terms of water treatment there are “very tight strictures” on the re-use of water.

“The EPA (Environment Protection Authority) has a lot of issues and it’s inefficient to treat grey water below certain levels.”

The toilets will be a “vacuum flush system, similar to an aeroplane toilet, but “a lot more sophisticated .”

Outside the building will be a “series of articulated fixed shading or screens”.

Brady says they form a “skin of continuity” around the building to compensate for the variation in facade treatments.

Residential and retail elements also set to go

The balance of the 1.6 hectare Carlton brewery site on Melbourne’s northern fringe on which Pixel will be developed, is also slated for an 80,000 sq m office tower that has been mothballed in a concession to the current downturn.

But a residential tower of up to 1200 apartments and a 40,000 sq m retail precinct that are both going ahead, counter-cyclically, in much the same way that Grocon’s massive Queen Victoria development, taking up a whole city block, pushed on during the last property recession, Grocon’s development manager, David Waldren says.

The retail element won’t be built in stages, either, says Waldren – a supermarket and a department store have already signed for half the 40,000 sq m space.

And the residential is well into the design process with four architects – McBride Charles Ryan, NHArchitecture, Minifie Nixon and Ashton Raggatt McDougall – and expected to yield up to 1200 apartments.

“We intend to bring that product forwards counter cyclically and we intend digging a hole by the first quarter of next year,” Waldren said.

Completion of the residential is expected by the end of 2012 and the retail by the end of 2013.

Price ranges will be from the high $300,000s to the $1.2 million to $1.5 million category.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au
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