Nicholas Bandounas, director of Scott Carver says that the Australian market is hesitant to take a risk when it comes to using sustainable building materials.
He says that the industry is looking to Europe for inspiration and assurance that new sustainable materials like recycled concrete are actually a feasible material to use in construction.
It’s worth noting that the construction industry is a massive consumer of raw materials and contributes to an estimated 39 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions – according to the World Green Building Council.
So encouraging designers and builders to use more sustainable materials – and reuse recycled materials – is a good thing. It’s just that they are unwilling to take a risk unless they know it will pay off.
“You need to give clients the confidence that these new materials are tested,” Bandounas says.”
“The Australian market is more conservative in our approach generally.”
This conservatism has rolled over into residential buildings as well, with a Climate Council report in October slamming Australian homes as “glorified tents”.
A “significant shift in the selection and use of construction materials from the sustainability perspective” is yet to take place in Australia, according to a research paper last year.
Thankfully, 47 per cent of executives in the industry say that sustainability is top-of-mind or a major concern, according to a global survey.
And there are myriad sustainability rating tools (in fact, an estimated 600 of them) designed to counteract this and encourage designers and builders to improve the sustainability of their buildings.
Most are measured by sustainability categories including water and energy efficiency, indoor environment quality, emissions, resource consumption and waste generation.
Understand the sustainability rating tools here: Sustainability rating tools cheat sheet.
Mr Bandounas told The Fifth Estate that Scott Carver has aspirations for 6 Green Star rating with its major development in Parramatta (still in design phase, awaiting council approval).
The 197 Church Street project is “underpinned by an Indigenous story” with design informed by consultation with Indigenous people and was recently awarded the Design Excellence Competition.
“The through site link called ‘Ngara Nura Way’ – meaning listen to Country, learn from Country and to share knowledge – speaks to the stories of local indigenous history,” Bandounas says.
The site includes a 32 storey Intercontinental Hotel, 25 floors of commercial offices with around 30,000 square metres of space and significant public gathering spaces.
A 6 Green Star rating is the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) rating for design and construction, interior fit, precinct planning and development, and performance across a range of categories including energy, transport, water, materials and land use.
“We have a whole sustainability department… looking at techniques to get accredited, what we need to do to get carbon neutral in our approach,” Bandounas says. The company is also certified as a NET Zero business according to its website.
Conservative Australian industry looks to Europe for innovation
Mr Bandounas told The Fifth Estate that recycled concrete is one of the circular economy materials that has been around for a while in different forms, but that clients are not yet confident to use new materials that have not yet been tried and tested.
“Recycled concrete etcetera [and other sustainable materials] is always coming out in the market – but you need to give clients the confidence that these [new and sustainable] materials are tested. We look to Europe to see what they’re doing.”
He says that the Australian market is more conservative, “unless you have a forward thinking client that the contractors are forced to follow. [in that case] the liability is shared and then the builder feels more comfortable.”
If the client pushes innovation, builder confidence will follow
In Australia, the industry follows a model where the builder takes on more responsibility rather than the architect, so they tend to be hesitant to take risks with using new and innovative sustainable materials, Mr Bandounas says.
However, he says that in government funded public buildings, or where the client is a company that’s pushing innovation and tech, innovation is encouraged. The industry gains confidence from that and becomes more open to risk-taking.
Once these materials are tested “in real life”, the innovation is then “filtered through to commercial projects and private projects”.
Mr Bandounas points to the 39-storey mixed-use $1 billion plus Atlassian Tower approved for next to Central Station in Sydney as an example of a project pushing innovation and tech towards sustainability in construction and operations.
At 40 storeys the world’s tallest hybrid timber design sees Atlassian working with New York-based SHoP architects, and Australian practice BVN as the design team.
Read our article: Why Atlassian has to be bold with its Sydney headquarters.
“At the heart of the project are three ambitious targets for lowering emissions compared to a standard office tower: running the building off 100 per cent renewable energy, reducing the operational carbon by 50 per cent and reducing the embodied carbon by 50 per cent. Zorgdrager said these targets are driving many of the design decisions, and that this is quite unusual.”
The building will also be fossil fuel-free and… modelling shows it will meet the top standards such as Green Star and LEED.”
Mr Bandounas says “the biggest challenge” for designers at the moment is the pandemic-caused shift to working from home, but “it’s a new world and we won’t go back to the old world, so we need to figure out how to collaborate… It’s a new way of working.”
He says that in the future this web-based collaboration might enable designers to easily collaborate internationally.
Scott Carver’s Design Excellence Competition-winning 197 Church Street site at Parramatta is in a culturally and historically significant location in Parramatta at the junction of Marsden, Church and Macquarie Street at the site of the Murray Brothers department store built in 1926.
Among Scott Carver’s other projects are the Australian War Memorial, Sydney Opera House and major commissions across the hotel, commercial and residential sectors.
Scott Carver has also submitted a development application for a $81 million hybrid timber, concrete, and steel composite commercial building at 32 Ricketty Street Mascot, which Mr Bandounas says is “the first of its kind”. The 20,000 sq m building features brick on the outside taking “design cues from the industrial heritage of the precinct.”