Like many building materials, making bricks releases greenhouse gases and chews up limited natural resources (in this instance, clay). This is what makes Australia’s largest recycled brick building – a claim validated by the brick supplier – something quite special.
Arkadia is a recently completed multi-residential, 152 dwelling building in Alexandria, a growing inner-city suburb in Sydney.
According to DKO director Raymond Mah, an architect on the project, its thermally efficient brick building envelope is made up of half a million multi-coloured bricks salvaged from a couple of buildings demolished in NSW.
In a “poetic gesture”, many of these bricks are returning to their place of origin, with the 5590 square metre site a brickworks in the 1870s. Mah says the whole area was largely dedicated to brick manufacture and clay harvesting.
Some of the biggest names in sustainability make up the design team. Working alongside DKO Architecture was landscape architects Oculus, and Breathe Architecture, the outfit behind the famous Nightingale model for designing and building residential buildings that are environmentally, socially and financially sustainable.
The Nightingale model is well-known for its innovations in social sustainability – purposefully designed for maximising casual encounters with neighbours. Arkadia follows the same ethos.
As a large development, it’s broken up into four separate “lift cores” so that each subset of residents have their own rooftop garden on an intermediary floor, complete with communal veggie patches and BBQ areas. The idea is to allow plenty of chance encounters with a small friendly group at numbers where you “can still remember names”.
Up on the top level there’s a communal space that can be accessed by the whole building. Residents also have access to fresh eggs thanks to an “architecturally designed” chook run (lucky for some). There are also beehives on the site.
Getting to know your neighbours even helps keep the energy use in the building low, with cross ventilation only possible in some apartments of windows and doors are open in neighbouring dwellings.
Because the building opted to be gas-free – a decision that got push back from the real estate agents, Mah says – it was important to minimise reliance on traditional heating and cooling.
This was achieved by leveraging passive design, such as the unique neighbourly cross-ventilation setup that “takes a leaf out of the design book for a traditional Queenslander”.
Mah says this is unusual for apartment blocks, which are conventionally laid out in hotel-style floor plans with units either facing a hot or a cold side.
By opting for four separate lift cores, the designers were able to achieve more corners and dual aspect apartments that rely less on heating and cooling to stay comfortable.
And, despite the generous outdoor green space, the designers managed to pack in a decent solar array to power the communal areas.
Greening the built footprint
The building looks right across to the expansive Sydney Park but a busy highway still left residents on the other side of the road feeling “quite disconnected” from nature, which is why the designers included an intimate park to the north of the site for the public and residents to enjoy.
Mah says the design team worked hard to offset the sheer square meterage of building with greenery to combat the urban heat island effect.
“We had this approach to minimise the footprint of the building to free up the rest of the site for greenery.”
The large surface area is used to collect rainwater to keep the drought-resilient plants alive.
The end result was a 6.2 BASIX score, which is above the mandated minimum of 5 for the NSW environmental assessment scheme. The team was aiming for a BASIX score of 7.
The Arkadia community
Developed for Defence Housing Australia, the site is occupied by 50 per cent defence force personnel and their families, and the general public live in the remaining 50 per cent.
Sustainable transport friendly
Residents are also well connected to the rest of the city, at just 800 metres from Erskineville Station.
Active transport is also encouraged, with half the basement reserved for bikes, amounting to more than one bike space per apartment.