Sydney Architecture Studio off grid commercial building

EXCLUSIVE: Plans have been revealed for an off-grid high rise project on Sydney’s Lower North Shore that will be powered entirely by human waste and use design inspired by the wings of an owl to reduce wind load.

UPDATED: Advances in technology is revolutionising architecture, enabling firms to do enormous projects with very small teams, as well as utilise new energy systems such as waste-to-energy, says Sydney Architecture Studio’s (SAS) Ken McBryde.

McBryde, who formed SAS with Tom de Plater in July 2017, is working on several ground-breaking projects including a tall tower on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, which will be completely off-grid and powered by human waste alone.

Developer is local company Eastern Property Alliance.

The project, which is yet to be approved, will be a mixed-use development up to 50-60 storeys tall, possibly in two towers in the St Leonards-Crows Nest Priority Precinct. The plan is for it to be lightweight and prefabricated with a composite timber and steel structure.

SAS has been collaborating with physicists from Brookfield Scientific Solutions Group to power the building sustainably.

“The idea is that we can be completely off the grid with that tower through collecting human waste and making a little power station in the basement,” McBryde says.

“That’s a game changer. It means this whole building doesn’t need to be connected to the grid.”

Half a floor of the basement will be dedicated to the power station, rather than parking.

“Because these days we don’t need cars – do we?” McBryde says. “When we’re near public transport. And with the whole driverless vehicle thing, that’s a whole new game-changer.”

Ken McBryde Founding Director, CEO: Tom de Plater, Founding Director/ Studio Manager; Jon Adgemis, non-executive chairman

Biomimetic design inspired by owls

The team is also looking at reducing the building’s wind load through transferring what they have learned from studying the way owls fly.

“An owl can descend on its prey without being heard and that stealth is the result of a very particular structure of the tips of the feathers, and so we understand that shedding the eddies that normally make noise and scare the prey is also a way of shedding wind load on a building,” McBryde says.

“So the project we’re looking at has large serrations as part of the form and we anticipate – it is yet to be tested at the scale of those serrations – that will greatly reduce the wind load on the building and therefore again lighten the structure.

“So the lighter the structure, the less mass, the less impact on the environment.

“They’re the kinds of things we look at – learning from the way nature solves problems and transferring that technology to our built environment.”

NevHouse fires up in Queensland

McBryde is also working a pilot project on the Gold Coast as part of his involvement with NevHouse, the philanthrocapitalist business his surfing buddy Nev Hyman founded to build housing from waste plastic for the poor.

They formed five years ago and built emergency housing in Vanuatu following Cyclone Pam.

“We’re looking at the much bigger uses of waste including using it for energy for the factories that we want to make the components for,” he said.

“We’re trying to put a facility right beside the dump on the Gold Coast so people would drive past this NevHouse facility, which is also a display village for our products.

“And we would go literally across the road and grab the rubbish,” McBryde said. “It’s a template for what we plan to do, basically take waste – industrial and domestic waste – fire up your factory and make component for housing for the poor.”

The royal stamp of approval

It was this cutting-edge closed-loop system that earned NevHouse top honours from Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, at the recent The Pitch@Palace in London – a global call for entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas.

NevHouse took out the most coveted prize from over 25,000 socially driven commercial enterprises around the globe.

“NevHouse having won – it’s a pretty big deal!” McBryde says. “This little Australian invention with a few of us involved in a little start-up – to win that is major.”

It’s a massive opportunity for the Australian organisation with enormous exposure and networking possibilities, including a meeting with Sir Richard Branson.

NevHouse is about to launch a €200 million (AU$309m) investment fund in Luxembourg, the most heavily regulated and transparent place for corporate investment.

“NevHouse is a triple lux-flag-rated idea,” McBryde says. “Luxembourg loves it!

“It’s extraordinary the government agencies who have indicated enormous need and enormous desire for NevHouse to help solve their housing problems,” he says.

Governments such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Mexico all expressed interest. However, securing orders is problematic.

“In the first two years we had this amazing response, but there is no mechanism to deliver on it,” McBryde says. “What we’ve learnt is governments do business with funds.

“The fund will lend the government money to do the project. We deal with the fund who we know, rather than trying to deal with bureaucrats.”

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  1. “investment fund in Luxembourg, the most heavily regulated and transparent place for corporate investment.”
    I did laugh. Luxembourg is notoriously dodgy for investing and is pretty much a tax haven for companies.