On fabulous readers, contributors and the never-ending search for more Spinifex spikes

26 April 2013 The Fifth Estate would not exist without our partnership from the start, with the sustainable property industry and its fans.

Among all we publish we value and prize the fantastic contributions submitted as part of this partnership though the Spinifex column on our site, named for its reference to the “pointy”, gritty end of sustainability action – that is where you, our readers, are working and thinking about future actions and directions.

The most recent crop of Spinifex contributions have included a view from inside a thermostat. Thank you Ashak Nathwani, now honorary associate at the University of Sydney, after his retirement from a long career at Norman Disney & Young. In this inspired piece, Ahsak has ironically revealed the human side of the indoor air comfort dilemma that plagues so many building owners and managers by stepping into the imagined mind and feelings of the thermostat.

You have got to hand it to “L30NW-007”, “mounted at 1.7 metres on a column, in the north west corner of this prestigious building in Sydney on level 30”.  Surrounded by “very highly paid workers” poor L30NW-007 has time for some philosophical musings while being blamed every day by “a select few for not looking after their comfort needs”.

It’s a tough job, he thinks, given that “a majority of people in the western world spend more than half their lives in artificial environments.  In my (rare) idle moment I wonder whether human beings were ever designed to spend so much time indoors with artificial lighting and controlled thermal environment…but it’s not for me to judge…just to do my duty.”

He has a more controversial insight.

“Our building has recently been awarded five stars through the National Australian Building Environmental Rating System.

“While that is good news for the building owner, not all the occupants are necessarily happy.

“Mike, who sits in the workstation closest to me, seems to be happy. He also dresses sensibly – summer clothing in summer and often a sleeveless sweater during the cooler months.

“Rhonda, on the other, who sits at the next workstation, always complains. She looks at me all the time as if it is my fault. She does not dress according to the seasonal changes. Her complaints range from conditions being too hot or too cold or airflow too drafty.

“The most interesting observation was when we had the hottest day in Sydney; she actually put on a cardigan because she reckoned that it was too cold inside.”
See the article The comfort factor, myths and myth busters

Landcape gets a tool

On the landscape front, a part of the built environment that get not nearly enough coverage, Catherine Neilson, national project manager for the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, provides an insight into the work between the AILA and the US-based Sustainable Sites Initiative that may prove a game-changer in terms of how we understand and measure urban sustainability in this country.

Urban landscapes in and around our cities can amount to 60 per cent of the total urban area, Catherine points out.

“Over the coming decade, urgent reform in the way we plan and design our urban environments will be crucial in reversing the dangerously declining levels of biodiversity and landscape quality worldwide before the trend becomes unstoppable.”

Yet so far “we have agreed guidelines or tools for defining and measuring “proper management” of our urban landscapes, much less goals and targets to conserve and enhance this critical regenerative asset base for current and future generations”.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a voluntary rating system and set of national guidelines for sustainable design, construction and maintenance practices for landscapes of all types, with or without buildings, is set to change all that.

On a recent talk by Glenn Murcutt and Stephen Kellert on biophilia, moderated by the ABC’s Janne Ryan, Greg Paine, a Sydney based planner, provides an insight into the complex thinking starting to emerge on the built environment. In this talk the topic was our connection with nature. And Glenn Murcutt did not hesitate to take a swipe at the “sustainability” word, preferring, he says, “responsible design”.  A topic for further investigation, we think.

“Biophilia, says Greg, “is an idea coined to encapsulate humans’ (that is, our) inherent affinity for nature, a connection that goes beyond even those critical physical needs that we know all too well – clean air and water, crisp fresh foods with minimum of additives, the healing power of natural light.

“Rather, biophilia is about the urge to affiliate with other forms of life – which we ignore at our peril and was why we were listening to an ecologist and not just an architect talk about design.”

Kellert’s messge, he says, is that “we must pay greater attention to bringing nature back into our day-to-day lives and, it follows, into how we design the buildings and other urban spaces in which we spend so much time.”

And although not in this issue, don’t miss the 16 April 2013 article by Stephen Choi, called, fantastically, “Buildings don’t use energy. People do”

Usually we change headlines, but you can’t change something that so powerfully describes the issue.

Our readers agree. The article quickly made it to the top of the hits for the week, and is now in the Monthly favourites.

So send us more of these great insights.

And we hope you’ve noticed we’re finally open for comments. Let the debate flow