Australian architects are “the most avant garde in the world when it comes to integrating environmental vision in building design at almost every scale,” according to LEED accredited Passive House consultant Andrew Michler, author of the recently released Hyperlocalization of Architecture – Contemporary Sustainable Archetypes.


The book is an richly textured exploration of how design responds differently and very much regionally in achieving sustainability.

In looking at exemplar projects in Cascadia (the US North West), Japan, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Mexico and Australia, Michler draws out elements of design, materiality and delivery that link sustainable architecture firmly to its context.

The architects speak at length about the process of thinking out the design and the context and influences that shaped it, and very much appear in their own authentic voices.

In an introduction to each section and project, Michler outlines and elaborates on the key sustainability challenges and opportunities experienced in each region, from climate change and carbon emissions to the way cycling has taken off in Denmark as a design element, and how this is part of a broader approach to life that emphasises focused on fun [can’t think when an Australian urban planning authority last said a city should be about fun!]

In Cascadia, for example, timber is the opportunity, and the Bullitt Centre, the world’s first Living Building Challenge-certified building, is explained as an example of how renewable energy, design, carbon-storing timber and a consideration for human users can come together.

In his writing about projects in Spain, Michler observes that “one of the tragic trends in larger-scale architecture, which has been embraced by the green building movement, is the reliance of technologies to overcome the shortcomings of the building”.

Andrew Michler
Andrew Michler

He says this began with the separation of load-bearing structures from the fabric, and erecting curtain walls, and the adoption of reliance on airconditioning to compensate for the relatively poor energy performance of this style compared to mass construction in warm climates. Widening floorplates increased the need for artificial light, and, coupled with HVAC, created problems.

“Glass-clad buildings are now the universal design world-wide, yet they are the single worst in terms of energy use,” he writes.

The six Spanish projects he profiles have countered this trend, through the use of “wrapping”, design for solar control and bringing daylight deeply into spaces.

“The expressive nature of wrapping is an antidote to shape making for its own sake. The formulation of these projects is in service to the sun, which by nature starts with the site.”

In contrast to these large projects, the seven Japanese projects in the book are all kyosho jutako – tiny houses. Michler says these homes arise from a mix of factors, including lack of available land. There is an emphasis on flexible use of space, and making less look like more.

And while he says the majority of these houses are under-insulated to maximise available living space – and some might even have a heated toilet seat – a Japanese home on average uses 45 per cent less energy than an American one due to “the occupants’ higher tolerance for discomfort, localised space heating and cooling and, of course, a much smaller occupied space to condition”.

A flow-on effect of the small dwellings, he says, is people appear to be focused more on purchasing experiences – including specialty food items and other immediate consumables – rather than collecting objects they have no place to store.

The Basque Health Department Headquarters
The Basque Health Department Headquarters

The Australian projects, comprising the largest section of the book and also showcased on its cover, range from the small footprint houses of Melbourne’s Andrew Maynard, to major projects including Grocon’s Pixel, ANZ Centre, Commonwealth Place, K2 Apartments and RMIT Design Hub.

The Surry Hills Library and Community centre; a rooftop penthouse by in Bondi by MHN Design Union, Perforated House in Melbourne by Kavellaris Urban Design, which has an entirely operable front facade; Casey Brown Architecture’s very funky 18-square-metre Permanent Camping at Mungee; and a prototype Park Bench House for the homeless by Sean Godsell Architects round out the selection.

If anything, the broad range of buildings seems to suggest that Australian architects are working to a polyglot aesthetic that has multiple ways of expressing the concept of sustainability, from achieving a high Green Star rating to creating a design that caters for the most vulnerable in our society, but does not meet the definition of “home” for most.

A film by LOCAL has just been made about the book, with an interview between Michler and New York Times and Dot Earth science and environmental journalist Andrew Revkin. Michler is also delivering the keynote address at next year’s Passive House Conference in Melbourne.

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  1. It really depends on what “green” means.I have yet to see the book. Does it include a lifecycle maintenance program,[ low maintenance – including all the electronics and services]; ability to recycle building components when it’s use by date arrives? Low cost initial construction? Ability to be amended to suit different uses? Urban and suburban relevance?

    Really no modern buildings which match todays technological advances are going to be green. The technologies are so fleeting and so subject to becoming obsolescent that the building will require constant maintenace and modification.
    Just being certified by some measure or other is a soft target. It may be an improvement but it fails to address the elephant in the room – our headlong rush to resource depletion and the consequent failure of our civilization, a fate we are way too far along to reverse.So lets have fun, we certainly are not solving anything fundamental.