Ken McBryde

Ken McBryde has officially started at global architecture, design, planning, and consulting firm Gensler, and he has a lot to say about the state of the sustainable built environment. 

“We shouldn’t talk about sustainability,” he says. “We need to talk about resilience.” Because resilience is about our response to and adaptation for the changing climate. 

Sustainability is about keeping things the same, he says, but resilience is about making things better. 

“Regenerative architecture leaves things better than when you found them. 

“It’s about how we can give back.”

At his new role he is head of architecture in the Australia New Zealand region, extending to APAC and the Middle East. He is the practice area leader for mixed use and retail centres, with a particular passion for design for manufacture and assembly, or as he puts it: “modern methods of construction”. 

The company employs around 6000 people worldwide, with 27 different sectors organised by subject matter into experts by region. He says he is comparing notes with people all over the world on a daily basis. In the Sydney office there are around 20 employees, “and we plan to grow to three times that in the coming years,” he says. 

“We are carefully selecting the best of the best with an aptitude for modern methods of construction and resilience at the front of mind. We are building up the team through that lens.” 

With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, McBryde says that the industry has drastically changed over time, particularly in relation to sustainability. 

When he started, “it was before the concept of sustainability was introduced. The industry wasn’t ready for it. We used to have to sneak in environmental objectives, because the client wasn’t valuing it. 

“But eventually, sustainability started to be measurable. Running costs are now measurable. Indoor air quality is measurable. Biophilia is now measurable.” 

This measurability comes out of extensive research and data modelling, he says. 

“Now we have BIM [Building Information Modelling] models that can be embedded with a lot of data. It’s essentially a really big database. 

“When you have the ability to create a ‘digital twin’, and you can combine that with the help of builders who are likely to be working on the project… it’s the same process we had before, but now we can see the whole building before it’s built.”

Digital twins can be used to predict the outcome of the building, and find challenges for buildability that can then be mitigated before the actual construction commences, he says. 

His new employer aims for all projects to be net zero carbon by 2030. 

“The world is catching up to architects who are passionate about sustainability because it is measurable. Tenants now want it, clients are asking for it.” 

“It’s really exciting, and it’s very essential. We have the responsibility to step up, the ability to respond, and the obligation to lead.”

And with this responsibility comes a “high degree of care for social aspects and the environment”. 

One such project is Loganholm, a share house for women at risk that will be located between the Gold Coast and Brisbane in a suburban area with a high proportion of women at risk of homelessness. The consulting firm is working on “providing a home” with passive design and natural ventilation. 

Upon completion the project will have 72 units with shared social spaces to provide opportunities for interaction, including a shared garden. 

“The project is about feeling safe and crossing the threshold of transition back into the community,” he said. 

Internationally, Gensler has previously designed a 98 unit supportive housing project in Downtown Los Angeles, in the US, that provides housing for victims of domestic violence and women experiencing homelessness. 

Another project the consultancy is working on is the Guulabaa koala sanctuary in Cowarra State Forest, NSW. 

In collaboration between Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Forestry NSW, and Bunyah Local Aboriginal Land Council, the sanctuary will use traditional land management methods and contemporary design to enable rehabilitation, breeding and release of endangered koalas.

The education centre on-site will be a prefabricated laminated timber structure sustainably harvested by Big River Timber.

“Trees are important to our survival, and the survival of koalas as well,” said McBryde.

The Cowarra State Forest Tourism precinct was in August 2021 awarded $3 million in funding through Stage Two of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund to enable sealed roads, additional car parks, a water tank mural, café and seating area, an amphitheatre and elevated boardwalk to be constructed.

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