18 July 2012 – For some time commercial architect Tony Thorp has been dissatisfied with the urban outcomes happening in Sydney.

With 25 years in the industry, Thorp, who is the principal founder of sustainability company Devesus, believes the CBD offers “a pretty poor work environment” in terms of health and productivity.

It is also, he believes, killing itself as a place where people want to work when offered alternatives such as attractive cafes or home offices.

  • Image: Devesus in collaboration with Joseph Jerome, MBuiltEnv

That dissatisfaction was bubbling away, but with no real path, until he listened last year to a talk by Esther Sternberg, author of books including Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions.

Sternberg’s works are described “informative and scientifically based inspirations to doctors and laymen alike in dealing with the complexities and 21st century frontiers of stress, healing and wellness”.

Thorp is a convert and believes that Sternberg’s work is part of the evidence that is emerging that views of green and water, or both, are beneficial to people’s wellbeing. Both physical and mental.

  • See Atlantic City article that says, “When we’re interacting with nature…we use an indirect form of attention that essentially gives our brain a chance to refresh, much like sleep.”

“Physical and mental health are inextricably linked,” he says.

“It is still a story of emerging research and implications, a postulation, but it can drive a different urban outcome.

“The idea is to reinvent our CBD. People have always paid more for views and there must be a reason for that. Evolutionary psychology suggest that landscape preferences are universal in all humans and are based on the African Savannah – the grass, trees, elevation and water.

“This potential linkage to physical health and wellbeing and productivity outcomes – that is a really interesting extension.

“The other side is we live in a very volatile and dynamic time, in terms of trying to attract people into the city.

“The city is less attractive if you have a laptop and can work in an attractive café. We need to recognise that better access to views will make the CBD able to compete with the emerging threat of the mobile worker.”

Tony Thorp

Thorp says Dr Sternberg’s work “joined the dots” for him and he started looking for opportunities in the Sydney CBD to create, “in the simplest sense”, a vertical parkland.

He chose the Australia Square plaza and office tower because it was “a wonderful place but dated and dark” with a need “to be lifted”.

“We need to reinvent the property to gain sustainable action for both the building and the city.”

Thorp has since presented his ideas, including a cost analysis, to building owners, Dexus and GPT, who he says are both interested in the concept from a sustainability point of view but still working on feasibility aspects.

From a tin tacks point of view, the Australia Square project includes green walls, timber cladding to imitate tree trunks, roof mounted PV cells to power irrigation and treatment pumps, a full site rainwater collection and treatment plant, a green wall nutrient store and feeder, reusing sunscreens as sculptural elements in the plaza, creating a green door at the entry from the plaza and a green roof for all surrounding high level views.

Thorp believes some of the beneficial outcomes will be self sufficient energy and water, a reduction of energy consumption and the urban island effect, the absorption of noxious gases, fresher air, better health and productivity and an enriched urban experience.

Other, more commercial wins will be adding commercial value to the lower levels of Australia Square and re-positioning the building to once again be a leader in sustainable urbanism.

But while Thorp has the dream, he is also a realist.

“We need to get this into the public realm to get traction, to test and see what the response is,” he says.

“I am trying to start the campaign to reinvent our cities but it may not happen without a push.”

For more about Dr Sternberg’s work go to https://www.esthersternberg.com/