3 October 2103 — Western Australian architect and educator Sid Thoo is both optimistic and cynical about the state of play for sustainable buildings.
“Although I do try to be more optimistic,” he told The Fifth Estate. “I don’t think being cynical helps anyone.”
Mr Thoo said he believed the property industry needed “to come back to what sustainability actually means, not green wash”.
“I say that there is no such thing as a totally sustainable building. Of late I have been using the terms ‘genuine sustainability’ or ‘more sustainable building’.
“Green is becoming a bit passé, and with the changes in government policy I think the green message has lost its momentum.
“We’ve settled into a comfortable rut thinking that ‘we’re better than we were’ so that’s good enough.
“I think we have a long way to go to get to anything that is even remotely sustainable.
“Is it doable? Yes, I think so, maybe not in my generation, or even the next, but perhaps the one after that. We have the technology, the intelligence and the innovation – but there is a general lack of will.”
Mr Thoo, who was the co-founder and director of architecture.collective from 2008 to 2012, and now operates his own practice, is also a Living Building Challenge volunteer facilitator and active member of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors.
He believes the challenge is about taking sustainability to the next level, and is the “closest thing” to creating a truly sustainable building.
“[The green building industry] has very much become a tick the box system,” he said.
“Have I done this? Have I done that? People are kind of happy where we’re at, but with the Living Building Challenge there could be more.
“And the challenge is all about that – it is only through the spirit and attention to collaboration that we can create a genuine sustainable building.”
Mr Thoo, who lectures at both the University of Western Australia and Curtin University, said while Green Star and NABERS had become ubiquitous, he believed there was the will to go further.
“Green Star is a victim of its own success. It has done a great job but I wonder if we have got to the stage where we are just happy with that.
Life cycle rating
“Although with the new life-cycle analysis rating you can see that Green Star is trying to take green buildings to the next level.”
Mr Thoo said he had partnered with eTool software creators Rich Haynes and Alex Bruce because he believed in the “whole of building” perspective.
“Up until about three years ago [whole of life] was seen as a bit fringe but Rich and Alex wanted people to look across the bigger picture.
“And in the early days they held meetings and it was very much, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ but I would say it is now successful.”
Mr Thoo said in Western Australia many government agencies were keen to only take tenancies in green buildings but there was a bit of cynicism in the industry.
“Everyone is Green Star but I am not sure if that is really doing anything. And architects see green and ESD as the engineers’ domain.
“They think, ‘I have done my fabulous design now it’s up to you to make it sustainable.’ It should be fundamental in the design process.
“But we are very much a silo-based industry.
“I think of a multidisciplinary team like a wrestling match. And we all sit down together but don’t ask any questions in case we look stupid.
“I have seen very few real collaborations.
“The architect wants to be first with the client, the project manager wants to come between the architect and the client.
“We all need to put egos aside so there is no conflict.”