Ray Brown, Architectus

OUT OF THE BOX: In this new occasional series about new thinking in sustainability design, Sydney-based architectural writer Anne Susskind interviews Architectus director Ray Brown.


The new frontier for office building sustainability is minimising reliance on airconditioning, Architectus managing partner Ray Brown says.

It is this that comes to mind first when Brown, whose firm is designing a 39-storey office tower together with Bureau Proberts at 62 Mary Street in Brisbane and co-designed with Ingenhoven the award-winning 1 Bligh Street in Sydney, is asked about how the firm’s projects excel environmentally. Nothing quirky like turning waste into biofuel, but vertical greening, natural light and bigger floor plates, which lend themselves to retrofitting.

And that leads us to atriums.

In a normal building, he explains, 10 to 20 per cent of air is regularly “discarded” by airconditioning, and you keep having to push 10 or 20 per cent of fresh air into the “still” air of the building. Take, for example, a hot day, where it is 35 degrees outside and air conditioned to 22 inside: the air that is discarded, or thrown away, is still cooler than the outside air, so it is a waste, really.

So what they are doing instead, once it goes within a five degree range of where it should be indoors, is pushing it into an atrium space (which is not fully air conditioned), where it mixes with the air there before leaking into the outside.

“You are getting a bit more use out of it, the cooled air.”

Aircon is one of the biggest energy users. “Anything that stems the amount of useable space that is not fully airconditioned has a big impact on overall environmental consumption. One of the biggest [energy] users is airconditioning, particularly in this country.”

On a cold 15 degree day, an atrium could be about 20 degrees, and about 30 on a hot 35 day might be acceptable.

An atrium space these days is very important, Brown says, because it is here that many people like to work all day, in the informal breakout spaces, the balconies and cafes and other meeting places that spill out.

The Brisbane project, Triplet, owned by QIC, connects two buildings, a new tower and a “perfectly good” ’80s building, which did not need to be knocked down.

“A building’s longevity is the ultimate environmental credential,” Brown says. “There is more pressure on the good sites. Most buildings have a design life of 50 or 60 years, some will endure longer – the ones with the bigger floor plate and loose fit services, because there is more space to retrofit technologies as they evolve.”

Because the site is very constrained, what they have designed is a small floor plate in keeping with the neighbouring building until the height of that building, with a bigger cantilevering floor plate above, and a “green social space” between the two.

By removing the loading dock and vehicle drop off areas, the site will be rearranged so it is no longer vehicle-centric and new laneways will be cut through it.

Rating tools and the tenant problem

Rating systems, Brown says, are providing a good baseline and a common language on environmental performance for tenants, real estate agents, architects and developers. But while there is a “feel-good factor” for architects, and tenants like to know they are going into a building with good performance, it sometimes “falls down a bit” in the interiors.

“Then a tenant will come along, and some are incredibly power hungry, and while everyone is concerned about the quality of the air, the access to natural light and overall wellness of places, and while they were very keen to get into a rated building, they have less desire for a rated fitout.”

Sometimes, he says, there is a mismatch between a client’s stated aspirations and practice, and it is up to architects to have a compelling vision to make things happen. It’s about navigating the many inputs that go into making a building, and negotiating through that to make a collective enterprise between architect and client to establish a vision that everyone is partaking in.

Architects need to guard against complacency, because while rating systems have been good, they can become box-ticking exercises which means “we may be missing opportunities to really push the environmental agenda”.

“For me, the results of a fully integrated design process is where every part of the budget is working environmentally.”

OUT OF THE BOX is a new occasional series designed to interview architects, designers, developers, or financiers who are leading the way on new thinking in the sustainable built environment. Projects or ideas do not need to be realised or under construction; they can be conceptual – the point is that they shift the thinking on the status quo, even green status quo. If you have a project you’d like to share, email us editorial@thefifthestate.com.au