On giants: slumbering, gentle, and those missing in action

10 June 2011 – Poor old industrial property. Always the least glamorous of the sectors, but beloved nevertheless by the people who understand its mysterious workings – and the importance of terms such as hard stands, high clearance roller shutter doors and double b turning circles.

As sectoral assets they typically produce good solid performers, neither stars nor lemons. Like the huge semi trailers that service them, they are our modern economy’s beasts of burden, storing the massive quantities of stuff that passes through our lives (on its way to landfill.)

The people who understand logistics centres might look like they deal in concrete and steel sheds but they’re actually in the retail game, devising and operating distribution, storage and retrieval systems. And because of this, high-end logistics is one of the industry’s best kept secrets. Every minute saved in processing time and every cubic metre saved in rental space is a strategic advantage with a massive multiplier effect that boosts the bottom line or, better still, end up as a drag on the listed price of competitors.

So it’s clever enough to get these behemoths to operate properly – let alone with some nod to environmental outcomes. Yet the potential environmental benefits that could be tapped in this sector makes this sector a slumbering giant of sustainability.

Think of all that roof space for catching rain water, or solar energy, all that lush open space for a co gen or tri gen plant. The potential is huge.

Of course, it’s not so easy. For a start, the roof of a big shed is the hardest thing to keep on. According to Dexus’s Ben Keen, the wind can whoosh into those huge high spaces and do its best to lift the roof off. And the structures aren’t typically solid enough to take a green turf roof for instance, or the current technology solar photo voltaics.

Yet property people can’t help themselves. They watch a presentation on how a new office building is smashing preconceptions of what is environmental excellence and soon they they want to start on the same journey with their next shed.

On a recent trip to Dexus’s new Quarry at Greystanes estate in Sydney’s mid west, The Fifth Estate recently got a bird’s eye view of some of the emerging ambitions for industrial property.

Keen, who is head of operations, industrial for Dexus and Angela Petousis, development manager were chief guides.

Now these two are not boastful people, but they could not contain the sense of pride and excitement at the early steps they have taken to shift a bit of green into the industrial space.

Solaris facility, Quarry at Greystanes

Being a brownfield site helps.

For a start the site is a disused quarry – formerly mined, and still partly owned, by Boral –  and as such lends itself ideally to an industrial concept with a difference.

There is no denying an evocative quality with quarries. Surrounded by the jagged ring of steep cliffs, perhaps it’s a sense of the energy of the mountain that once occupied the hollowed space.

The urge to create something that respected this unique landscape in a sustainable way, was irresistible, says Keen.

Luckily the first tenant to sign up for the estate agreed.

Solaris, an Indonesian paper making company, stepping into Australia for the first time, was immediately interested in the idea.

Enter James Fitzpatrick of Fitzpatrick & Partners, a designer who normally confines himself to upmarket office buildings such as the Macquarie Bank’s 1 Shelley Street.

The result at Quarry is a building that is more like a modern office than an industrial shed. Fitzpatrick has incorporated timber and vast glazed areas that enjoy the sweeping panorama of the cliffs, no guttering, rain gardens, and plantings of paper bark trees as homage to the products the company deals with.

The design incorporates a pitch roof to further differentiate the building from its generic peers.

Ben Keen and Angela Petrousis

Petrousis explained that the high quality green outcomes were achieved just a touch too early for a Green Star industrial rating, as the tool was still under development, and two subsequent tenants didn’t necessarily want to embark on the same path. But the model is there now, to see and inspire, she says.

And James Fitzpatrick has added industrial design to his portfolio.

  • See our special report from Lynne Blundell on the greening of the industrial sector

Gentle giants
You’d never know it to look at him but that gentle looking soul, Peter Head is about as radical and subversive as you will find in the urban design field, Lynne Blundell finds in this issue.

Buried not too far down in softly coded words is a proposition to change the way we do business. Use biomimicry, he says. Get rid of our dependence on land, he says. No less.

Speaking at the always challenging yearly Landcom conference recently, Head suggested things such as that we shift from selling “stuff” to selling services – and still see our economy grow ¬– and for superannuation funds to invest only assets that won’t destroy their members quality of life when they are older.

Absent giants
Speaking of giants, Bathurst Burr this issue bemoans our lack of green leaders. Who will inspire and rouse us as former heroes did?

We often ask the same question

Send your notes, your ideas but more than anything your editorial contributions to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

After all the whole idea of The Fifth Estate is that it’s a platform for you. It depends on a partnership with this industry to make it work.