Feeding the lions

By Tina Perinotto

25 November 2010 –

Well, aren’t jobs the popular thing? In research we have recently conducted for our marketing collateral we took a hard look at what our readers spent most time on.

You’ve guessed it;  jobs. A whopping 4.25 minutes — and that’s an average. Of course our brilliant feature stories and major news stories racked up a close second, but the results confirm our instinct that this is an industry in the making, and growing fast.

Everyone wants to know where the next new thrust will be and who’s making it.  Every job that is offered, placed or lost signals something about the direction the industry is heading in — and right now there is a heap going on.

Poor Energetics, for instance, has lost three people in quick succession. Not because there’s anything wrong with the company, as one source said, but more by way of a painful compliment to its reputation and skills.

One of these people, Mary Ann van Bodegraven, has been snared by Westfield; another person has gone to  Honeywell, and another, Dr David Mitchell, has launched a  new business,  bringing renewable energy to the mining industry.

This last venture might sound like taking vegie burgers to the lions but Mitchell,  also a veteran of biotechnology with CSIRO, says  miners know change must come and they are starting to look around.

There are huge challenges but also opportunities.  “It’s a big sector;  a sector of enormous opportunities and complexity, at a technical, geographical, philosophical and human-resource level,” he says.

For instance, if the  mining  industry can be weaned off its smoke-stack addiction,  a massive 25 per cent of Australia’s entire fossil-fuel use is spared. SAG (semi-autogenous grinding)  mills alone, those huge rock-crushing machines that start the minerals extraction process, account for 10 per cent of Australia’s fossil fuel use alone.

You can tell Mitchell relishes the challenge, and  there is no doubt he is at the pointy end of change.

We know miners are aware they need to change. They demand the highest green standards in their office buildings.  Dexus tells us that, in Brisbane, Rio Tinto  drove a hard  bargain to ensure its  new headquarters would score a six-star Green Star rating.

And while we’re on the subject of jobs, Gavin Gilchrist, another pioneer in the energy efficiency field, confirms there’s quite a bit of work cooking up in the corporate sector from major tenants. He says  one large insurance company that closed its sustainability unit during the global financial crisis and “couldn’t find a few bob” to keep doing its NABERS energy audit is now  searching for a new sustainability team to pick up the pieces and jump back into line.

New jobs remuneration report for green jobs
On the subject of jobs – again – and more precisely pay scales, The Avdiev Property Industry Remuneration Report is about to advance into green fields.

Managing director Rita Avdiev recently said that her report, which has tracked salaries and incentives in the Australian property market for 25 years will start to document the sustainability sector and define the subsectors, specialisations and positions in this market.

“Where do we begin?” asks Avdiev.  “Is there a hierarchy of importance of services, roles and remuneration in this sector?

“Now that boring old engineers have morphed into sexy environmental experts there is mainstream acceptance of their importance and use.”

If you would care to assist, and help define where the various roles fit, “how your sector should be structured and whether your remuneration should be differentiated from the rest,” contact Avdiev
NABERS reaching for more stars
NABERS has confirmed it is now open to public submissions on the proposal to go to six and seven stars, and possibly beyond.

So if you’ve got a problem with NABERS — as some in the property industry keep telling us they do,  even though the system has been reviewed— now’s the time to speak up. (See our separate story for details, using our excellent search function to help you find the stories you most want to read.)

Facades and 1 Bligh Street
Sydney will be back on the green building map with 1 Bligh Street after kick-starting the whole thing with 30 The Bond in Hickson Road, then losing the limelight to Melbourne’s CH2 and now Pixel.

When The Fifth Estate had a tour of the partly completed building earlier this year, it was already clear this would be no ordinary new monolith in the city. There was an air of excitement that permeated the entire site, from builders to engineers and architects.

The new floors were being bolted on, one by one, to the most unusual curvaceous interior that later, standing at its centre on the ground floor, seemed like a warm enveloping womb, with shafts of light that would no doubt change in mood and tone  with the passage of each day and season.

The thing that most impressed The Fifth Estate, however, was the double skin façade that wasn’t.

Certainly there were two layers of glass but the panels were open at the top and bottom to allow the hot air to evacuate. The double skin wasn’t so much for the layer of warm insulating air but to protect the mechanised metal blinds that would open, tilt and close in response to the movement of the sun. Interestingly no human will be able to override the blinds until they have performed their environmental function, our small tour group was told.

Now that’s a truly intelligent building.

In this issue of The Fifth Estate, facades are the focus of an article by Melbourne writer and architect Scott Willey. What he has discovered is a whole new frontier, complete with an imaginative potential that only scientists can cook up. Try a façade that might include living organisms within its skin, for instance.

Deo Prasad
Also in the realm of exciting science and thinking is Deo Prasad at the University of NSW, whom Lynne Blundell profiles in this issue.

It  seems that sooner or later anyone seriously interested in green buildings will be told to speak to Prasad. The man is a mountain of seriously interesting information about the future of the built environment, and he’s working on the most ambitious projects related to energy.

They need to be ambitious. Within a few years, he tells Blundell, some people will spend 30 per cent of their income on energy.

It was one of his colleagues, Suntech founder Dr. Zhengrong Shi,  that famously took the ground-breaking solar energy work that Australia would not/could not commercialise back to China and is now one of the world’s wealthiest men.

The design professions

What an interesting bunch of people landscape architects are. Having had the wonderful opportunity to recently sit as member of their judging panel for the NSW awards, TheFifth Estate got a rare, behind-the-scenes insight into how the profession thinks. These are all people with a deep concern for the environment; their choice of profession means this goes almost without saying.

To watch how each jury member painstakingly analysed, dissected, judged then rejudged each entry with openness, fairness and impartiality was to watch a set of people able to truly put aside their own predilections for the benefit of the profession as a whole.
You get a sense landscape architects have immense respect for the work they do to help shape the spaces in the natural and urban environment that we inhabit, and treat it as a privilege.

A similar experience last year with the NSW architects award jury was equally insightful, revealing the complex thinking and multitude of issues that architects need to consider and balance in what must be an extremely difficult job.
Time after time The Fifth Estate would enter with the group into a building that seemed one thing, only to slowly begin to see the building anew through a completely new set of eyes as the rest of the jury, all architects, gently but firmly applied their architectural framework and knowledge to search for a design essence that would outlive its superficial appearance.

To get a sense of how complex design is, it’s worth trying to imagine a whole new structure where there is none. The rooms: how they link; how they function. What the occupants will feel and sense as they move through the spaces. How they will respond to the building and to each other when they are in it? Complex, isn’t it? And quite a magical thing.

Ken Maher
Ken Maher, chairman of Hassell, which happens to be the biggest design practice in Australia, is both architect and landscape architect. Our extended interview with him reveals someone deeply interested in how the creative process must integrate with the various professions that contribute to the built form and problem-solving elements to create something wonderful.

Our conversation with him is rare insight into how this winner of the 2009 Australian Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal and a similar life achievement award from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects sees his influential role in Australian design.

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