Melbourne’s Domain precinct will soon have a premium, net zero, lockdown-resilient apartment block. Expect more. And it’s all been inspired by the wake up call of the summer bushfires.

A new division of Elenberg Fraser called The New Standard is dedicated to standardising and iteratively improving a high quality, ultra-sustainable design for multi-residential living through the new architectural platform.

The move comes as the luxury end of the residential market gets serious about carbon emissions, with developers Hengyi and Headland Properties teaming up with The New Standard on what it claims is Melbourne’s first premium net zero carbon apartment project.

According to the head of the architectural studio behind the $100 million, 21-storey mixed-use development, Callum Fraser, the bushfires were a “big awakener” that has made net zero buildings an imperative.

“Everyone’s eyes opened, and it was very real,” Fraser told The Fifth Estate.

And thanks to the strong sustainability credentials, great location and premium facilities, the expectation is that the building will be “tightly held” and therefore have a “strong capital growth profile”.

That’s the message Fraser wants to communicate. He sees 31 Coventry acting as “a bit of a litmus test” to prove to developers that high quality, sustainable, smart buildings offer strong returns.

To hit net zero, well-established standard passive design principles have been employed, which could reduce the building’s operating emissions by more than 85 per cent.

Targeting a 7.5-star NATHERS and 5 star Green Star design rating, the building will be tightly sealed, well-insulated, fitted with high-performance glazing, and operable windows and doors to take advantage of temperate conditions.

The building is also pared back to the essentials – “what we wanted to do was take a standard building and take a red pen and then bring it back to a really simple building.”

It also takes advantage of the latest integrated tech and sensors to streamline its energy usage so that “the lights aren’t on when they don’t have to be”. Fraser says that this kind of technology has only recently got to the point that it’s affordable for the mainstream market.

A low energy consumption base is fairly stock standard for the architectural studio, which Fraser says has been trying to drive change in the residential market for some time.

No gas promise

Where 31 Coventry levels up on sustainability is reaching net zero, which includes going gas-free – heartening news given the country is leaning towards a gas-led economic recovery.

Fraser says this was took six-month long conversation that “certainly wasn’t accepted the first time it was put forward.”

Instead, the building will rely solely on electricity and energy-efficient electrical appliances, which will be powered by 100 per cent renewable solar energy through an embedded network.

A 10-year contract for renewables instead

The developers have established a 10-year electricity supply agreement with a local Victorian renewable source upfront.

Fraser says residential buildings actually are a great opportunity to negotiate long-term renewable power agreements to lock in savings.

Securing the agreement upfront means it’s not left to the body corporate; these are not well known for making decisions and acting on them. If the commitment is made up front, only people attracted to the environmental credentials will buy these apartments in the first place, he explains.

Any remaining operational emissions will be offset.

The plan is to also achieve zero carbon construction, which involves keeping track of materials used and offsetting them.

Overseas manufactured elements will be offset overseas though planting trees, carbon sequestration or buying carbon credits, and local manufacturing, particularly concrete, offset locally through reforestation and other Victorian initiatives to offset the carbon and produce renewable energy.

Fraser is confident that there’s a large group of Australians interested in the net zero credentials, especially in the wake of the bushfires.

There’s also a sense that this cohort has expanded well beyond its earthy roots, if this building is anything to go by – complete with a rooftop pool and garden, and a ground-level Italian-style cafe that’s envisaged as a venue for events such as talks by wine makers for instance.

Covid safe

The Melbourne project is also a “first-mover” to respond to the potential of ongoing waves of the coronavirus, or future pandemics like it. This is significant given the emerging narrative suggesting that people will flock to lower density areas to secure a spot with more private space to stay safe (and sane) during a lockdown.

“What we came to realise with the Covid-19 thing, is that in times of lockdown, you want to be able to enter and exit without contacting others or waiting in congested lobbies.”

No corridors, just lifts direct to your place

As such, there will be no corridors and direct-to-residence lifts specific to 30 apartments each, which can be called either via an app or from the home so that people never touch a surface or share the space with others.

The building is also designed to avoid re-circulated or shared air that might carry pathogens, and the latest advances in anti-microbial surfaces will be explored.

If people are required to shelter in place again, they won’t be going without their comforts.

The 28 residences over 21 levels will have northern terraces, 11metre wide living zones, expansive kitchens and customisable interiors that include features such as vertical courtyards, steam rooms, “safe rooms”, study options, library spaces, dressing rooms, interior wine cellars and butler’s pantries.

The location so close to the Tan walking track and parklands also makes it a resilient spot in a time of lockdown, Fraser says.

He also says that the design team looked to respond to the coronavirus without sacrificing common areas that create a sense of community.

“That social part of the building is important for us. In the world today, finding a place to belong is a critical thing.”

Although the apartment buildings is equipped for lockdown periods, in normal times residents and the public can enjoy generous social gathering place on the ground floor, complete with a small bar and work hub. There’s also a communal area on the roof.

Fraser expects that the net zero credentials will attract a group of cohorts that share the same values and are likely to create a consistent internal community within the building, improving the value of the building in the long run.

A “perfect building” that bears repeating

The buildings is the first effort of aptly-named “The New Standard”, Elenberg Fraser’s new architectural offering that aims to standardise and iteratively improve its apartment product that it has perfected over the years.

The studio is looking to break the mould that exists in modern architectural practice to keep reinventing the wheel with each new design, and instead “start with the best building and work on that same building infinitely”.

This will bring building design closer to car manufacturing, where car designers work to refine a single product and it gets progressively better. “That leads to extraordinary leaps.”

By going “direct to manufacture”, architects become heavily invested in the project and have more skin in the game as they will be looking to continuously hone and improve the product.

This won’t mean cookie-cutter apartment buildings, Fraser asserts. There will still be plenty of flexibility to change how the building looks but the mechanics and systems will remain somewhat standardised unless something better comes along to replace it.

The New Standard was born out of a desire to take Elenberg Fraser’s extensive experience and knowledge in multi-residential design to an entirely new level, managing direct-to-manufacturer relationships to improve on current architectural practices while incorporating the newest design, technology, sustainability and building efficiencies.

“We’re trying to provide a seed or spark of revolution – it’s not something we’ll be keeping to ourselves.”

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  1. Would be nice to see the Sustainability Consultants who created the Net Zero Plan and did all the modelling and design advice get a name drop.