5 April 2013 – Ché Wall and Matthew Jessup have teamed up in a new firm, Flux. One of their first big contracts is with the massive Barangaroo development on the fringe of the Sydney CBD, to contribute to a template that will guide sustainable outcomes “between the buildings”, reports Denise McNabb.
The timing was fortuitous. Ché Wall and Matthew Jessup had barely created Flux, an environmental, design and advisory consultancy to the property sector, when the Barangaroo Delivery Authority invited a select few in the sustainability arena to pitch for the job to head its leadership and advisory services for environmental sustainability.
Shortly before Christmas, while settling into their new office above the plush new Burberry store in the CBD, not far from the foreshore where the $6 billion Barangaroo redevelopment of Sydney’s port on the north western fringe of the CBD will rise and spread over the next two decades, they learned of their successful bid.
The task ahead is ambitious by any stretch. But for these internationally recognised green building veterans, the prospect of contributing to a world-class template for a development of this magnitude is invitingly challenging.
The job is to provide almost a template that will guide the outcomes “between the buildings” of this major project, the “contractual underpinnings and the creative delivery model”, as Wall puts it.
Wall and Jessup have collaborated on many green building projects during 13 years working together at WSP Lincolne Scott (now WSP) where Wall was managing director and Jessup, global head of the firm’s environmental design practice, Built Ecology (previously Advanced Environmental). Most recently they worked together at Lend Lease Sustainability Solutions.
They have earned a slew of environmental awards along the way.
Barangaroo, being developed by Lend Lease, is touted as bold and inspiring in its design, architecture and its public domain space, and in its integration and diversity.
For Wall and Jessup its most compelling prescription is the authority’s mandate that it aims to be climate positive.
Jessup, Flux’s managing director and director (Wall is a director), says though there are three key areas of the development at Barangaroo – Headland Park, Central Barangaroo and Barangaroo South – it is the whole people care about so all three parts must come together.
“You don’t want to have a weak part and a strong part. They must all talk to each other,” he says.
“We will bring together the best thinking on sustainability direction and relevant strategy, implementation and policy,” says Wall.
“The common thread across these will be objectivity and the technical capacity to analyse issues rigorously when needed.”
Jessup says invariably a building is out of date by the time it is built, citing the challenges faced by the Federal Government rolling out the national broadband network.
“Too often you run the pipe and wire and it is in place for the next 100 years. We need to have a vision of what the future looks like and put in place mechanisms so that there is flexibility and adaptability to keep things updated or refreshed as new technologies and efficiencies emerge and evolve,” he says.
Wall says the BDA has asked for a degree or co-ordination across the whole of Barangaroo, as well as continual monitoring and verification to make sure everybody is in the right direction.
“If there are issues that may not be as robust as we like then we must ask what the options are for making them better,” he says.
“The buildings are important but the most important legacy is completeness to the story – the balance between public use versus commercial drivers, versus cultural uses and the delivery methods for achieving the high reaching carbon neutral goals.”
Jessup says it’s easy for people to forget that Barangaroo is a globally significant project being developed in a commercially viable framework.
Wall says issues involving governance and funding into the future need to be captured now to ensure that the environmental systems can be maintained and can improve over time.
“We have always enjoyed our work best where you get a better environmental outcome and you improve the economics. Environmental sustainability at the expense of economic sustainability is a bad outcome.”
Environmental sustainability at the expense of economic sustainability
is a bad outcome
He says talking only about the buildings is missing a large part of what Barangaroo is.
“What is exciting for us is almost every aspect of getting the right answer in Barangaroo is not about bricks and mortar. It’s the delivery of big gestures, about the alignment of incentives and the way the buildings relate to the lease of the ground, which in turn relate to the operating regime.”
Wall, founding chair of the World Green Building Council, and co-founder of the Green Building Council of Australia, was instrumental in developing the Green Star rating tool. But he says he gets disappointed when people go weak at the knees about a building that chases Green Star and by just buying credit and is not simply commercial.
“We should be celebrating examples which provide a better value outcome in an accepted commercial framework.
“With Barangaroo you watch the process of going from a blank piece of paper to finding the best use for that site, which is an ongoing process and obviously topical for the people of Sydney and New South Wales.
“You then ask how you get that to be the most sustainable outcome possible, rather than default to just a normal delivery path, and what mechanism needs to be put in place to cascade responsibilities for it.”
Jessup says though there are many stakeholders and participants in Barangaroo the one area of unity is sustainability.
“We would expect people might ask about building heights and the like but they are not going to argue about the sustainability objectives.”
Wall says, however, that there is only so much that can be done to drive the sustainability agenda through conversations with architects and engineers.
“It’s like a discussion on climate bonds where a language has to be developed for the finance community because they are the ones that make projects happen.”
“Our assumed obligation is to make sure that if we develop carbon reporting mechanisms to communicate the performance of Barangaroo then they should align to other standards rather than developing something totally bespoke. They should be able to align with climate bonds, for example.”
To that end the BDA has been working with KMPG to look at whether it can align the National Carbon Offset standard with the project.
Wall says the intent for delivery of Barangaroo has never been done before
The project could well become a global exemplar for other port projects around the world.
“All the good work done to date is set to succeed,” he says.
“The government has set up absolutes in terms of its headlines, and that’s to make it carbon neutral and climate positive.” But it’s what happens “between the buildings” that will be key, Wall says, “the contractual underpinnings and the creative delivery model”.
Wall and Jessup will use Barangaroo’s existing expertise as needed instead of hiring their own staff, but for other projects they will increase their own staff capacity and expertise to respond to big projects.
They were also appointed in December to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency expert panel.
Presently, they are working on the refurbishment of 20 Martin Place (the ANZ Bank site); ensuring the building is as green as it should be. They also have two retail expansion projects and a house in Queensland on their books.
“The common thread across the projects is objectivity and the technical capacity to analyse issues rigorously when needed,” says Wall.
The pair called their business Flux after rejecting everything a consultant suggested until he comes up with this final idea.
In engineering Jessup says, flux means energy flows but he concedes most people think of the state flux as a state of change. But that fits too, along with the idea of getting rid of the stuff you don’t need, something they practice.
Wall says he and Jessup are keen to see Barangaroo through to the end.
“It depends on us doing a good job but as things get resolved and the need for us wanes, then that is fine.”