John Eckert

By Tina Perinotto

30 September 2010 – Favourites: John Eckert is back in his home-town of Adelaide as national design manager for AV Jennings after several years with Mirvac in a similar role, based in Melbourne.

With him Eckert brings some keen sustainability experience honed during his years with Mirvac, in particular his lead role in the design and delivery of the highly sustainable zero carbon Harmony 9 house at Waverley Park  in Melbourne, for Mirvac’s estate on the former Australian Football League oval at Waverley. (see our article on this)

According to Eckert, AV Jennings understands that  it needs a stronger position on sustainability than in the past.

It’s a recognition that this is a “compulsory component of what we do,” he says.

“If you’ve got kids you know you need to be sustainable and in my view you’ve got to have a level of responsibility and it’s got to be part of what I do which is to design buildings.”

At Harmony 9 the objective was “to inform ourselves [at Mirvac] of the impending legislation [of higher minimum NatHERS star ratings requirement] and from that we determined that we should go a lot further than the legislation.”

At AV Jennings, there is a similar mood afoot. At the company’s St Clair estate in South Australia, 350 houses to be built by the company will be medium density terraces with a strong sustainable focus.

Part of the deal is an alignment with Zen Home Energy Systems to provide solar energy.

Right now, Eckert is involved in working out the strategic positioning of AV Jennings.

“Clearly the actual marketing space is around green and sustainability,” he says.

Clearly, the consumer is far more educated than in the past, says Eckert.

“People like water sensitive urban design where the estates collect storm water and deal with responsibly.” In fact, he adds, many think that this is “par for the course,” that the law demands it.

Consumers are being influenced by a number of sources, especially televison programs, that raise the awareness of these issues, he says.  “The consumer is demanding a level of sustainability.”

But it’s still early days. Eckert says sustainability features are not a deal breaker. “There are still people who want the granite benchtops instead of the water features.”

And there is the question of how far you go. The value of building more concept homes is questionable, he says.

“It’s pointless to do a 10 star house when Mirvac has done a 9.2 star. We’ve cracked the back of that issue. It’s not about stars now, it’s about renewable energy, so it’s doesn’t matter if I haven’t got the most efficient airconditioner if I have solar to run it.”

Rain gardens

At the end of the day, the building needs to perform at a certain level but to have it thermally inert may not be critical. “If the energy is provided by a renewable source it doesn’t matter,” Eckert says.

“So the star rating isn’t the ultimate goal; but the energy provider is.”

He is convinced that much better technology is just around the corner. In Victoria there are airconditoining systems that are working on piping water through the flutes in the corrugated iron of roofs.

“We’re seeing exponential growth in technology and its hard to stay on top of what it is all going to mean.”

Cost needs to be a factor, he says. It’s not much more to go from 4-5 stars to 5-6 stars but at 8 and 9 stars there are “major surges.”

As for the cost of reverse brick veneer construction where the bricks or masonry are on the inside of the house thereby retaining warmth in winter and “coolth” in summer; “you might be better off putting some of that money into a renewable energy source,” Eckert says.

After all, you can have a draft proof building but if someone leaves the door open the savings are negated. A similar argument relates to residents who move into  sustainable house but bring their giant plasma television screens with them and turn the airconditioning on full blast.

“You can get a nine star house but have a one star occupant.”

St Clair, South Australia
The 350 terrace houses that AV Jennings will build itself at the estate, instead of selling off land, will be designed to be highly interchangable in terms of floor space.

“You can have bedrooms and living areas downstairs for mature owners even though there are another two bedrooms upstairs,or you can have a home office downstairs with the bedrooms upstairs,” according to national design director John Eckert.

In great part this is to address that many Australians turn over their house every seven years on average, with the waste inherent in that behavioiur.

Energy-wise the houses will be positioned so that the major roof space is oriented north – “solar-ready” as Eckert puts it. Other features will include a green switch that cuts out electricity circuits which suck power out of equipment with stand-by fittings.