One of Melbourne’s most talked-about new retail centres, Brickworks at Burwood, has finally opened. It’s breaking new ground in sustainability and is a great opportunity for the general public to experience what a Living Building Challenge (LBC) development can deliver.
One of the most notable features of the newly opened Burwood Brickworks Shopping Centre in east Melbourne is that the centre occupies less space than most shopping centres. That’s proof that smaller shopping centres have a place in the Australian retail landscape, says managing director of the architectural firm involved with the project, NH Architecture’s Roger Nelson.
In what’s believed to be an Australian first, the centre has a rooftop garden with about 11,000 plants and a quail coop. There are lemon trees in the carpark, skylights and operable windows in every tenancy, solar PV and on-site water capture, treatment and re-use.
The traditional shopping mall’s “front” and “back” design has been replaced with a curved structure that allows natural light and fresh air to penetrate the building.
“It’s easy to lose touch with the physical and natural environment when you are in a shopping centre, in terms of the temperature, smell, air and lighting, and our work seeks to bring this back. What’s outside really is inside in this instance,” Nelson says.
“Sustainability and retail don’t generally go hand-in-hand and we are proud to play a role in breaking the paradigm of what traditional retail centres offer in their design and output that facilitates sustainable consuming.”
Developed by Frasers Property Australia, the team that delivered Burwood Brickworks also includes building contractor Hacer Group, Russell & George, who did the interiors, and rooftop farm operator Acre Farm & Eatery.
A permanent art installation was created by Indigenous artist Mandy Nicholson, through the Balirinji Group, an Aboriginal-owned design and strategy agency.
Frasers have learnt a lot from the Living Building Challenge, lessons it has shared with the wider industry and its supply chain, says Peri Macdonald, executive general manager for retail at Frasers Property Australia.
“One of the early lessons … is that the current planning framework is not equipped to support or encourage a development like this,” Macdonald tells The Fifth Estate.
“We believe there is scope for local and state government planning frameworks to provide incentives for developers to undertake these types of forward-thinking projects,” he says.
Tough market conditions
One incentive could be a commitment from planning authorities to assess applications within a more reasonable or even accelerated timeframe.
“Fortunately, we have a number of progressive partners working with us to deliver this world-first project and we’ve attracted a terrific group of like-minded tenants who have used the principles of the Living Building Challenge to further shape and improve their business models.”
Macdonald says the “tough market conditions for retail” also add to the challenge of creating a retail centre that delivers a net positive environmental benefit.
He says the cost of working to an LBC certification is about 10 per cent more than a similar 6 Star Green Star (Design & As Built) centre.
The decision to proceed was a “commercial decision” based on a business case that balanced the additional upfront costs against projected enhanced performance outcomes.
“More efficient operating costs are a key quantifiable benefit but it is not straightforward to measure the incremental sales potential of a Living Building Challenge-certified centre,” Macdonald says.
More visitors, drawn by the uniqueness and quality of the centre, are expected to stay longer and spend more.
“The appeal of the rooftop garden to young families and its associated educational opportunities will be important.”
Under LBC, tenancy shop designs and fitouts also had to comply with various building and sustainability conditions, which put pressure on tenant costs and programs.
Conditions included energy-efficient building fabric and services, and the use of sustainable materials, such as FSC timber. Fitouts also had to avoid LBC Red List materials, the worst in class materials in the building industry.
Nelson says the project team relied heavily on ethical products, and used Declare labels, the transparent ingredients labelling system for building products created by the US-based organisation behind LBC, the Living Future Institute.
“By using the Declare labels for every product and material, we are ensuring we are having the best possible impact, whether it be through the manufacturing process or the resulting human exposure,” he says.
The project’s LBC ambition enabled the architect, developer and builder to “work together like never before in a bid to procure materials and manage a supply chain that requires the highest of sustainability standards”.
Macdonald says the project does not represent a major change in direction for Frasers but rather, is “an aspirational extension of our existing commitments at an organisational level” and is in line with the developer’s broader sustainability approach.
“For our retail business, we have committed to creating new centres that, at a minimum, achieve 6 Star Green Star (Design & As Built) certification.
“But there’s no doubt the lessons we’ve learnt on this project will influence and enhance the environmental, social and economic sustainability outcomes of retail developments we embark on in the future.”
Some of the innovations investigated include the identification of waste streams, biophilic design, materials selection and stakeholder engagement. These will be incorporated into the design and operation of future projects.
Tenants have “really stepped up” to the challenge, and some of the national tenants are rolling out approaches taken at Brickworks to other stores around Australia.
Authorities are also keen to learn from the project. The Victorian Planning Authority for example, has toured the site, and Frasers has participated in multiple workshops with the City of Melbourne that have focused on the project as a case study to influence planning scheme amendments relating to green infrastructure projects.
Macdonald says other developers have also shown interest, particularly in the rooftop farm, and other retail project developers have decided to sign up for the LBC.
“Creators and owners of alternative retail environments, such as university campuses, have also shown an interest in the project and are looking to incorporate some of the innovations pioneered at Brickworks into their operations,” he says.
Collaboration between the developer, the build team, consultants, planning authorities, the local community, the Living Future Institute, tenants and other stakeholders was crucial to deliver a successful project, and collaboration will need to be ongoing, so the centre delivers a “net positive, regenerative ecosystem”.
Initiatives such as rooftop solar, operable windows and capture and re-use of water in a closed loop system will save money on utility costs, but Macdonald notes they also require labour to ensure they operate as envisaged.
“We have created a living building but the human experience remains the principle guiding its creation. It must be enjoyed by people for its beauty, comfort … and also operated and respected by people to fulfil its potential.”