329 Johnston St artist's impression

Abbotsford in Melbourne’s inner north is set to become home to what might be Australia’s first multi-storey mixed use building that brings together two of property’s hottest sustainability trends – Passive House and Cross Laminated Timber.

Developer and construction company Pirovich is proposing building ranging in height from six to nine storeys designed by Fieldwork, the sister company of small-footprint developer Assemble.

The design combines a ground floor of retail and a medical centre, two stories of commercial office tenancies, and serviced apartments ranging from one bedroom to three bedroom apartments and four duplexes.

There will also be three levels of basement parking that will provide 157 car spaces (48 for residents), and 70 resident bike spaces on the ground level, and an additional 22 public and visitor bike spaces.

Development manager Ashley Pirovich told The Fifth Estate he first became aware of CLT when he saw an episode of Grand Designs a couple of years ago.

He said the architects asked the developer if it would consider CLT for the project during early design stages.

“I thought, ‘Yes, why not?’”

Mr Pirovich said there were many upsides to using CLT for both the developer and builder, in terms of speed of construction, improved site safety and less need for onsite labour.

“Instead of 30 people onsite, you have a crew of five carpenters.”

There were also upsides for the surrounding community, he said, in terms of less noise and disruption. They won’t be hearing concrete pumps running constantly, except for the initial basement works, and there will be fewer trucks.

No downsides with CLT

“There are no downsides really, not for us as the construction company, not for the neighbours, not for the owners and occupiers.”

He said many people’s first thought when they think of timber is fire risk, but that it is really not the case with CLT.

Timber: Exposed

The NCC 2016 change that allowed construction with timbers including CLT to 25 metres as a Deemed To Satisfy solution requires that any structural timber be encapsulated, such as by adding a layer of fire-resistant plasterboard.

The 329 Johnston St project, however, is taking the Performance Pathway, so is in a position to ensure the fire engineering solution allows it to leave timber exposed.

“We have a good building consultant that is open-minded,” Mr Pirovich said.

“Our goal is to expose as much timber as possible.”

That includes exposing the timber of the CLT ceiling panels, corridor walls and some of the party walls.

“To have exposed timber in the offices, that’s the most exciting part of it,” he said.

That is because the occupants will benefit from timber’s beneficial effect on wellbeing.

Passive House to benefit occupants

The other part of the sustainability approach – designing to achieve the standard required for Passive House certification – will also have occupant benefits, Mr Pirovich said.

“We are doing Passive House because you can have [Building Code of Australia] compliance and you can have Green Star, and still not get a really great outcome.

“There are far more long-term positives for users and for the environment with Passive House. It is not just box-ticking.”

He said the company hoped to show the market that it can be done, and demonstrate there are benefits both for the developer, builder and the people buying the end product.

The aim is to sell the individual tenancies to owner-occupier businesses and to investors looking to lease them, Mr Pirovich said. An operator will be sought for the serviced apartment component.

Already some interested parties have been in touch about the project, he said.

He said the lack of an ongoing need to pay for a large degree of heating or cooling once tenants have been educated in how to operate the building is expected to be a real incentive for buyers.

The project will also have rooftop solar, and it is currently being assessed which part of the overall building energy use the solar will supplement.

Landscape elements, including rooftop, terrace and vertical greening designed by Simone Bliss from SBLA, are also integral to the design of the project, he said.

“There are a lot of terraces and outdoor space – a lot of offices don’t have that. Most of the time people are working in boxes.”

The “rigorously designed” landscape plan includes mature trees, and also street-level elements including hillocks of native plants with seating to improve the pedestrian experience.

The development application has been submitted to City of Yarra, and approval is hoped to occur in the fourth quarter of this year. Construction then aims to commence mid-2018.

Mr Pirovich said that the whole project will be an “education process for purchasers and for neighbours”.

A big part of this will be “knocking off the fear factors” around fire and timber and talking about the positives.

“I hope it will be a huge success so we can do it all the time,” Mr Pirovich said.

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