Rebecca Pearce at Greenbuild in San Francisco 2012

On CBRE’s Rebecca Pearce and sustainability as a global growth sector, BVN’s Bill Dowzer on activity based working migrates to health and schools and the power of amazing design as a way to beat the Barangaroo blues

9 May 2013 – CBRE head of sustainability Pacific Rebecca Pearce will wind up her last day in the company’s Sydney offices on Friday, and by Tuesday will be winging her way to London and a bright shiny new job running the entire Europe, Africa and Middle East sustainability operations for the same firm.

A replacement for the Sydney-based job is due to be announced soon, with a shortlist whittled down to two this week.

In London, Pearce will head a team of 15 in a model for sustainability skills that partly resembles the Australian operation, where the skills reside both at the full-time head office level but also with other specialist staff within different sections of the business – or countries in the global operation.

It’s all exciting, wonderful news for Pearce, but what’s even better is what this signals for the industry. This agency – one of the world’s leaders – is firmly committed to sustainability. It’s not making any of those mealy mouthed noises about sustainability being a dirty word.

Sustainability, in one of the world’s leading property services companies that delivers core business services to the huge real estate assets of major corporations, is not only alive and well, but booming.

As Pearce told The Fifth Estate in a few minutes snatched on Thursday from her last-minute preparations, at CBRE sustainability initiatives have backing at the top.

“We’re embracing it now more than ever. It’s been a key focus for jobs and it’s had a lot more board focus by directors.”

In the US-based global headquarters, head of compliance Larry Midler represents the team’s needs “and the market’s needs for sustainability,” Pearce said.

“I think the team will continue to grow globally and the services will expand.”

It’s not just words. The company announced its Green Research Challenge grant program in September last year with a commitment of $1 million over four years.

“We had such a good response [to the challenge],” Pearce said.

“Basically it says we are now going to be formally working around the world with academia and industry to do something innovative as well as practical.”

“It’s the realisation that apart from it being the right thing to do it’s important to our clients. There is an increasing focus from the services point of view to provide all the services they need, and this is an areas that they require assistance with. It makes business sense.”

The first tranche of awards from the research grants will be announced soon.

As for the job in Australia, Pearce’s replacement will head a team of two full-time staff working on NABERS assessments and 10 part-time people who “come and go”.

There is also a full-time sustainability manager servicing the DEXUS portfolio.
In addition, there is a “varied bunch of people who have sustainability interests or who are specialists through most of business lines.”

A previously advertised head of sustainability for NSW to assist Pearce has now been put on hold until the new chief settles in.

The outlook, the outlook

Okay, the interest rates went down, which means bad stuff. But within two days, by Thursday, we had news job numbers were up.

It’s hard to keep up with this digitised economy. Well, that’s how it feels – yes, no, yes, yes, no, no, no. Yes.

But in the design and development sectors – at the coalface (got to find a new word for that) – the message resembles the flatlining on the screen attached to a not-very- well patient.

Bill Dowzer

Principal of BVN Bill Dowzer, the architecture practice that has put its stamp to some of the more interesting buildings around Australia, as well as the modern open plan “campus style” workplaces, including National@Docklands, is not too hopeful of a recovery anytime soon.

“The government is not going to be spending any money. Confidence was generally building in the commercial sector but I think this confidence has come back now that we’re going into a very different government cycle,” he said in a conversation last week.

“It’s all about stripping money out of everything, which means a lot of the big infrastructure projects are going to slow. The big highline projects are still out there but the money around for research projects – it’s all going, in a way. So it’s an interesting time.”

“Interesting,” in the Chinese sense of the word, no doubt.

The worst thing, Dowzer says, is that in terms of fee levels architects are going backwards – to the levels of six or seven years ago. Which will make innovation (and perhaps sustainability) a tough ask.

“There’s a real issue there: I think we will be struggling to innovate at those fee levels that we’re getting.”

A lot of firms are looking at what they produce in terms of quality of documentation and looking at different methods to reduce costs, Dowzer says.

But the evidence is growing – innovation is not a dirty word – and it’s catchy

On the other hand, there is some good news that points to evidence that innovation pays and delivers long-term results.

For instance, the design of workplaces. According to Dowzer, the kind of campus office and activity-based working delivered in modern offices not only paid dividends in offices but is now leaping across into the health and education sectors.

Dowzer’s company has been rolling out some interesting projects in these areas that call on the activity-based working and healthier environments pioneered by the office sector.

“The transfer of knowledge between sectors is happening a lot. It might have started with the workplace 10 or 12 years ago but we’ve now merged that thinking into the health sector,” he says.

Elements such as natural light – “and the things that make the environment as healthy as possible” – have been absorbed as highly important for healing in hospitals.

Kinghorn Cancer Centre

Recent BVN projects have included the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

Chemo patients at this hospital will no longer be sent to an airless basement for treatment but have sunlit garden views, for instance.

And the entire building will be connected by an eight-level atrium.

But hospitals are also a “huge working environment” for doctors and nurses as well. And that’s about “dissolving formality… How do you make it feel more like home?” Dowzer asks.

“It merges a lot of the workplace thinking [into designs for hospitals].” Such as the kinds of materials used in the building.

The interesting thing about scientists, says Dowzer, is that they are relatively introverted, so the hospital design is more social, able to create more informal interaction groups. Again, the same sort of logic as in the workplace.


Dowzer says that schools too are looking at their traditional classrooms and deciding they no longer work for them. So they’re pulling out walls and creating more dynamic learning environments.

It fits right into the move towards more self-directed learning and “teacher as mentor” instead of the “expert” standing at the front of the class and dispensing knowledge.

New design has marketing benefits too – for parents and the best staff.

As can be expected the schools first to the table with these new designs are private – MLC at Burwood and Ravenswood in Gordon, Sydney, which are BVN clients.

But Dowser says there is also a similar move in public schools.

In the commercial area the open plan office is even starting to infiltrate the hallowed ground of legal firms and these days not just the support staff but some partners are going open plan, Dowzer claims.

For Freehills’ new offices at 161 Castlereagh Street in Sydney, under development by Grocon and with the fitout being built by Lend Lease, a 12-storey atrium links the office space but there will also be what Dowzer describes as “hybrid” space.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in briefings and looking at the way they work, working through the change process – and the opportunities.”

In an über-diplomatic way, he says, “It was an opportunity for the partners to work the way they want to, in a hybrid style, that’s designed to evolve over time.”

Sustainability was “really important” in the outcomes, Dowzer says, and the building aims to have a Green Star rating.

King & Wood Mallesons is another top tier legal firm that went open plan with a “fair bit” of their new space at 600 Bourke Place in Melbourne recently, and Corrs is understood to be on the same path.

In other interesting work is the new Macquarie Bank building in Martin Place within the existing Commonwealth Bank building, which BVN is designing in collaboration with Johnson Pilton Walker and Tanner Architects.

It’s quite an interesting project, says Dowzer. “It’s putting a brand new building inside the shell of an old building.”  And it will have mixed-mode (both natural and mechanical) ventilation.

TBWA Chiat Day offices by Clive Wilkinson

Collaborator on the interiors for this building will be California-based Clive Wilkinson, who put highly imaginative offices spaces on the map with his TBWA\Chiat/Day offices in Los Angeles in 1998 and who designed One Shelley Street for Mac Bank.

With the amount of old stock that will become available as major development behemoths like Barangaroo start to suck out lucrative tenants from the core CBD, reworkings such as this will become an increasingly interesting proposition.

Nothing has been revealed about what Clive Wilkinson will do with the new Mac building and knowing the Mac there’s no point asking, but a look at what this architect has done in the past with brave international tenants will put you in the frame of “wild”.

Anything even remotely resembling some of the more imaginative work would be bound to fire life into some of Sydney’s tired old stock.

Dowzer thinks some incentives to reinvigorate these buildings is a good idea. But we think Wilkinson as interior architect could be enough.

  • See our report of an ebook that BVN has produced on the workplace

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