Greenhouse by Joost

What if we all said: no more shit happens?

By Tina Perinotto

The sacred fool is “a person who keeps attempting the impossible, knowing even from the beginning that they won’t succeed, but continues nonetheless.”

– Spoken by Lin Jensen in an ABC Encounter program on peace activists.

In the same program, Erin Adson quoted a Mennonite who, in 1984, asked what would happen if people devoted the same self-discipline and self-sacrifice to peacemaking that armies and nation-states devote to war-making?

As the world seems to spiral into a series of cataclysms, and the hourly news gets worse, especially from Japan, it’s worth keeping these thoughts in mind. And perhaps the possibility that, with a single disaster, the human psyche goes into shock, absorbs, settles, and then forgets.

But, also, a series of shocks can stimulate great change.

Old materials, new visions
Our lead stories in this 50th issue of The Fifth Estate are about new ways to look at very old elements: in this case, building materials that we’ve lived with for centuries and therefore think we understand forwards and backwards. Not so.

There’s Lynne Blundell’s report on the erudite and highly persuasive Michael Green, speaking at Green Cities 2011, who says timber has the potential to give us high-rise buildings, faster, cheaper and more sustainably than steel and concrete systems.

There’s Caroline Noller’s fascinating look at a much bigger body of research she has conducted into six common materials. She unearths their secret history, the colourful characters who helped further their development, and the nasty truth about their carbon cost.

Here’s a sample: “In Roman times Pliny the Elder knew about aluminium. And bricks have a good environmental profile until you add cement mortar, which doubles the carbon footprint, or render, which doubles it again.”

Chris Taylor, an expert on timber, delves into the forest looking for the true story about timber and the Forest Stewardship Council, Australian Paper and its office Reflex Paper, VicForests, and the Victorian Government. And that’s to name just some of the players.

Momentum
Within our own microcosm of life – this neat, tightly composed property industry, – the momentum for change continues to build. Every time we step into its throng, there seems to be more engaged people, ready to tilt the balance, and change for the better.

Even more exciting: people entering it from other industries and disciplines, fascinated by its potential to re-shape so many spheres of life.

On Thursday night this was evident in spades at a function in Sydney for Arup’s positive/disruptive new program called The New Agenda, which aims to bring together elements that can herald change at scale.

Enough of building-only innovation: people are talking about land-use planning, and new styles of cities formation.

See Treehugger’s coverage of US-based new urbanist Peter Calthorpe, who argues that we need lifestyle changes, not green “gizmos”, to save the planet.

“Urbanism is, in fact, our single most potent weapon against climate change, rising energy costs, and environmental degradation,” Calthorpe says.

“The simple attributes of urbanism are typically a more cost-efficient environmental strategy than many renewable technologies.

“For example, in many climates, a party wall is more cost-effective than a solar collector in reducing a home’s energy needs.

“Well-placed windows and high ceilings offer better lighting than efficient fluorescents in the office.

“A walk or bike ride is certainly less expensive and less carbon intensive than a hybrid car, even at 50 mpg. A convenient transit line is a better investment than a ‘smart’ highway system.

“A small, co-generating electrical plant that uses waste heat locally could save more carbon per dollar invested than a distant wind farm.

“A combination of urbanism and green technology will be necessary, but the efficiency of urbanism should precede the costs of alternative technologies.”

People are talking subversion, secret underground meetings at locations not disclosed until the last minute. To discuss green buildings? There’s something bigger going on here.

Arup’s own program is good evidence of the frustration of smart, big-thinking people bursting out of the barriers and champing for change.

The venue for the function was evidence enough: the inspiring Greenhouse by Joost, a pop-up, sustainable restaurant made from a crazy mishmash of found objects: hay bales, old pipes welded to make chairs, herbs growing on the roof and old jam jars used to serve up delicious, sustainable food and wine. (Read more on all of this from Lynne Blundell soon.)

Nestled at the tip of Circular Quay on precious/sacred ground within a hair’s breadth of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, the location of Greenhouse is also evidence of new thinking.

The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, it seems, pulled out all stops to enable the installation, showing that bureaucracy is only as powerful and easy to change as the stroke of a pen, when all is said and done.
Sadly, the venue, sponsored by Arup, is temporary, and will close at the end of the month. However it is to spring up in two more venues yet, one of which will be in Milan.

The Chippo model

Back in Chippendale, our very own Bathurst Burr, Michael Mobbs, spoke at the first workshop to push forward with the City of Sydney’s commitment that he has inspired: to create a demonstration sustainable suburb that could be rolled out to the rest of Australia.

Go Michael.