25 September 2012 — The University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre is now under construction – with the aim of being Australia’s first certified Living Building.

It is up against two other competitors in the Living Building Challenge –  a sustainable training centre at Illawarra TAFE’s Yallah Campus , which forms part of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, and the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

Read our story: McLennan to launch Living Building Institute in Oz

Designed by Cox Richardson Architects, the Wollongong Centre aims is to research, collaborate, and link with industry to meet the challenge of improving the energy efficiency of new and existing building stock.

It will produce all its own power on-site from renewable sources, be water neutral, use local resources and eliminate the 14 most common toxic chemicals found in buildings.

The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre is due for completion in early 2013 when it will begin a 12-month testing period in order to receive its accreditation as a Living Building.

The building will feature a large photovoltaic array along with a smaller building integrated photovoltaic thermal system that will generate electricity, cool the PV panels and pre-heat air for the building; one of the many industry collaborations that the building will host.

The materials in the building have been carefully selected and thoroughly researched to avoid the 14 Red List chemicals which are:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol
Joe Agius

Cox Richardson director Joe Agius said understanding the composition of the materials that were used in construction, where they came from and their health impacts had been the most difficult part of the Living Building Challenge.

“A building with no formaldehyde or PVC is quite an achievement,” he said.

The project comprises a 900 metre square testing facility along with a two-storey office and training wing for researchers, industry collaborators and administrative staff.

The testing facility is fully naturally ventilated. It is primarily constructed from re-used bricks that have been locally sourced and heavily insulated to achieve thermal comfort. Photo voltaic  panels are used to shade the northern façade as well as generating the energy required to achieve zero net energy.

The mixed-mode office building features an Australian first, hydronic heating in a post-tensioned slab, along with underfloor displacement air distribution, high performance double glazing, including louvres, and reverse brick veneer walls clad in Forest Stewardship Council white mahogany sourced from the mid-north coast of NSW.

The Centre features a green IT network that will use one-eighth of the energy usually required, intelligent lighting and ventilation control via a building management system linked to a weather station, a ground source heat pump and a native food garden.

All materials used in the project are subject to constraints on where they can be sourced from in an attempt to foster local economies.

“The local sourcing of FSC timber has been particularly challenging, our engineered timber products had to come from New Zealand in order to meet both the FSC and formaldehyde requirements of the Living Building Challenge,” Mr Agius said.

Material substitution
A thermo polyolefin membrane has replaced PVC membranes for the green roof, natural rubber is used for flooring, ethylene propylene diene monomer gaskets replace neoprene and high-density polyethylene instead of PVC pipework are just some of the material substitutions that have been made.

Others include fibre cement sheeting replaced with magnesium oxide board to reduce the embodied carbon of the building.

Total total embodied carbon will be offset through a one-time carbon offset program upon completion of construction.

Mr Agius said unlike other rating tools, such as Green Star, the Living Building Challenge aspired to be a global rating tool.

While rating tools like Green Star could fall into the danger of turning into “box ticking” the nature of the Living Building Challenge was that it was open to proponents to design their own sustainability agenda,” he said.

“It’s a wholistic and integrated approach,” he said.

Mr Agius said while the Living Building Challenge was in its infancy it lifted the bar and left the door open for innovative thinking.

But it would be a long time before it caught up with Green Star ratings, he said.

“Green Star is well established but I think they can probably co-exist side by side – and Living Buildings are very difficult to achieve in a commercial or urban environment.”

Something at the top of the bell curve
Living Future Institute Australia chair Warren Overton said one of the aims of the institute was the Living Building Challenge, which calls for the creation of building projects, from single-room renovations to whole communities, which operate as “cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture”.

To achieve certification, projects must meet 20 rigorous imperatives, including net-zero energy, waste and water, over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy.

Mr Overton said while existing sustainability measures were already in place, such as Green Star, the Living Building Challenge was the “next step”.

“The challenge now is to create regenerative and truly sustainable buildings, that are fully self-contained and containing,” he said.

“I have been working with Green Star for years and when it first started we were looking at the top 25 per cent of the market. The reality now is that half of the market is Green Star rated. It’s become mainstream, which is what we wanted, but we need something at the top end of the bell curve.

“We want people who have done Green Star to not rest on their laurels – and the challenge is way out there.

“In America, people do the equivalent of Green Star and then they push themselves harder with the Living Building Challenge.”

Jason McLennan

Jason McLennan, author and consultant
Founder and creator of the Living Building Challenge, and chief executive officer of the International Living Future Institute Jason McLennan, is certainly not one to rest on his laurels.

He is considered one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement today and the recipient of the Buckminster Fuller Prize.

His work has made a pivotal impact on the shape and direction of green building in the United States and Canada and he is a much sought after presenter and consultant on a wide variety of green building and sustainability topics around the world.

Under the Living Future Umbrella, Mr McLennan operates the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Pacific Northwest’s leading organisation in the field of green building and sustainable development.

An Ashoka Fellow, his work in the sustainable design field has been published or reviewed in dozens of journals, magazines conference proceedings and books including Time Magazine, National Geographic, The New York Times, CNN World, Architecture, Architectural Record, Dwell, Plenty, Metropolis, The Globe and Mail, The World and I, Ecostructure, Greensource, Arcade and Environmental Design and Construction Magazine.

Mr McLennan is also the author of four books; The Philosophy of Sustainable Design, The Dumb Architect’s Guide to Glazing Selection, The Ecological Engineer and Zugunruhe.

The Philosophy of Sustainable Design has been used as a textbook in more than 70 universities and colleges and is distributed widely throughout Europe, North America and Asia.