Image by Paul Sprengers from Pixabay

There we were at Mascot launching our most ambitious event ever, Building Circularity, where we brought together some of the best minds in Australia, the UK, the US and New Zealand to figure out exactly the opposite of what NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet wanted when he released his hit list.

The pollie was like a voice from the 60s where everything new is great and everything old must go.

Our aim and that of all our speakers and panellists and expert moderators was to figure out how to do the opposite and make our buildings as retainable as possible and as low in embodied carbon as possible.

What was most exciting of all was having some of the most high powered leaders of the most progressive part of the Australian economy – the sustainable built environment –  present in the flesh, the f2f we’re all been missing and pining for, sparking off each other, shooting provocations and inspirational vibes into the room and into the ether, where we know it will strike fertile ground.

There was interaction, intensity, a bit of cutting across the other speakers. NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler, for instance, dropped an interesting snippet – that he’d knocked back nearly 1000 bathrooms in various dwellings as part of his gathering drive to reform the building industry in NSW; that he’s rather partial to the “smell of concrete” [in the morning?].

And from someone else during the show, that we don’t have green steel or green concrete in Australia. A comment that, in the “Green Room”, where talent waits to go before the cameras, elicited some vibrant protestations from Veena Sahajwalla who, during the Spanish-ish Inquisition, held the audience spellbound on the new materials coming out of her lab/microfactory in the UNSW. A session by the way that could have gone on for double the time allocated. Easily.

But then again that’s what the ebook is for, to chase down and nail some of the big red and green flags waving and flapping wildly during the day.

That will be ready next year.

All the sessions were each a standout. Starting with a big picture of the global view, moving to the precinct level, down to buildings and constructions and then to materials, finishing with an overview asking, how do we really want to live? How do we achieve regenerative and offset through greener cities what we can’t reduce?

Which is why we need to thank the NSW Treasurer for turning around the arc lamp of history from his own tired view of beauty and value in buildings to something that squares with the reality of the future we face and the inherent beauty in life and survival.

Mr Treasurer, the day will come, probably sooner rather than later, when we will morph from the “buy nothing new” month to the “build nothing new” movement.

Our existing buildings need to be loved and preserved, ReLoved, as we call it.

First, of course, they need to be built correctly.

And that’s where David Chandler comes into the picture. He’s trying to reform the sector to raise its standards and stop laying booby traps for buyers that can ruin them emotionally and financially.

On the evening of our event, the ABC’s studio cameras were trained on the devastation of some of the people who bought into a Mascot building and the Opal Tower at Homebush and found they have been left with impossible debts and shattered lives.

Sometimes, Chandler says, to achieve quality we might need first to demolish at least parts of a building so that others learn that creating harm through the construction industry is not acceptable.

We called Chandler on Thursday to expand on his quip during the event that 1000 bathrooms needing to be demolished.

The reason, he said, was that he’d found tiles not properly fixed, just spot fixing, which encourages pooling of water and soon enough serious water problems.

These have been found over about 10 buildings, he said, with one building alone accounting for 370 bathrooms.

I recall a leading architect who told me a few years ago how he watched an upmarket apartment building in his neighbourhood be constructed without waterproofing. It was duly sold and all the new owners within weeks duly ripping out their entire bathrooms and starting again.

Chandler says he’s also found structural issues in his inspections. This, after the huge publicity garnered by this state’s faulty towers and the huge publicity around Chandler.

We’ve got a long way to go to shave back the massive waste in buildings.

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