photo: CSIRO

The Green Star rated Ginninderry community in the ACT is taking a suburb-wide approach to planning for fire. The development will be something of a living laboratory, with developer Riverview Projects signing a Collaborative Arrangement Agreement with CSIRO.

CSIRO Bushfire Urban Design research leader Justin Leonard will be part of the research team, which also includes the Australian Red Cross and EcoLogical Australia.

According to Stephen Harding, Ginninderry project director developers are already working closely with builders and buyers to encourage better than code minimum outcomes in terms of sustainability and home performance.

The aspects of bushfire protection will add another layer to those conversations.

Already some of the community’s design guidelines and requirements overlap with fire resilience, such as mandatory rainwater tanks that are double the standard size and rooftop PV.

Harding says blower door testing is also being promoted, and all display homes are being tested so builders are upskilled in the approach.

“We aim to demonstrate through working with our builders to convince people that things beyond business as usual don’t cost too much more and give a much better outcome.”

The goal is to identify and communicate the value-add of bushfire protection and its synergies with sustainability.

One measure being embraced across the community is that it’s being built without gas connections.

Many of the buyers coming to the area are new to the ACT and do not have the “lived experience” of those who were in the area during the 2003 fires, but the impact of those fires is something that needs to not be forgotten, he says. 

The bush-urban interface of the location also highlights the importance of landscape planning in terms of protection. The water sensitive urban design strategy includes pond bodies and wetlands for stormwater management – areas that can double as fire breaks in event of an emergency.

Thought is being given to design and construction of a refuge building for people in the development’s conservation corridor, and the soft landscaping required in front yards is likely to not only reduce the urban heat island effect but also deliver some fire protection.

Another item on the drawing board is a community app, which could alert people to risks and direct them to designated safe houses, refuge points or safe zones. 

Have the green space and live there too

Another innovation in the bushfire resilience space is the design developed by architects Baldwin O’Bryan for earth sheltered housing.

The home idea won Best Design Concept from the Bushfire Design Council of Australia a few years back, and it is about to achieve some serious scale, according to Sean O’Bryan.

The core of the concept is a compressed earth brick that can used to construct arched tunnel-like structures beneath a layer of earth and vegetation.  O’Bryan told The Fifth Estate there has already been an earth-sheltered project delivered in WA and one is nearing completion in Victoria.

He says concerns around bushfire are currently generating most of his practice’s work.

The compressed earth bricks are about to be launched in the market with manufacturing partner and bricks from new facilities being founded in South Australia, NSW and Victoria.

Along with the low-carbon nature of earth as a feedstock, O’Bryan says the manufacturing will be potentially utilising waste products such as plastics or end-of-life concrete in the mix. The bricks also do not need the addition of emissions-intensive Portland cement as a binder.

Beyond the value for bushfire, O’Bryan sees the homes as a solution for urban areas where maximising green space is required to combat the urban heat island effect and improve amenity.

There is a design for a granny flat version, so an additional dwelling can be added to a backyard without losing the back yard open space.

Golf courses such as Moore Park could also resolve developer pressure to sell up so the sites can be converted to housing by earth-sheltered allowing houses to be built beneath the fairway. Sports grounds are another possibility for co-development.

Everyone could make money out of this, O’Bryan says.

There are other parts of the cities also such as rail line easements and road easements where the acoustic insulation qualities of earth and the subsurface design approach could open up residential development potential.

“There is enormous capacity to increase density without losing green space,” he says.

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