BIPV and Zero Carbon Buildings

Nick Shore, NSG Group

We’ve talked about how glass in windows has a vital role to play in helping architects create low-carbon buildings – but there’s another way that savvy architects are using glass products to transform our cities.

Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) systems are solar panels incorporated into the skin of a building. Whereas traditional solar panels are often bolted on to the roof, BIPV are specifically designed as part of the structure of the building. They can form part of external wall cladding or be incorporated into windows where complete transparency isn’t required.

By using BIPV as a structural component, architects are able to make use of the billions of square metres of building roofs and façades in our cities without drastically altering their appearance. BIPV systems have the potential to turn these otherwise redundant façades into discreet mini power stations. And the more BIPV installed, the less demand there will be for more environmentally harmful forms of energy.

BIPV systems are most effective when they are incorporated into a building’s design from the start. Because these systems are so flexible, architects don’t need to compromise on other elements of their design vision to specify them. And because buildings with BIPV systems offer far more to occupants than just a space to work, they are more attractive to potential tenants.

For these reasons, BIPV could transform the way we design buildings. In fact, the latest industry predictions by Nano Markets anticipate that our cities will become awash with BIPV systems over the next few years. The technology is becoming more efficient, production costs are falling and, crucially, legislative changes are inspiring architects to look for new solutions to create greener buildings.

The benefits of solar power are becoming more tangible too. Pound for pound, conventional forms of energy generation such as coal and gas are still cheaper than solar. But falling manufacturing costs and improved component technology such as NSG TEC™, a range of coated solar glass products designed for thin film photovoltaic applications, are pushing solar systems towards grid-parity; where electricity from solar panels becomes as cheap as that from conventional power plants. Buildings with their own energy source also benefit from cutting out the energy company middleman. This benefit is often made all the sweeter thanks to Government ‘feed-in tariff’ incentives across a range of countries.

All this can amount to significant net cost savings compared to energy taken from the grid in the usual manner. This is particularly attractive for tenants and building occupiers as it means lower energy bills and a lower carbon footprint, a key factor in driving the uptake of BIPV technology.

So BIPV marks a step change in the shift towards zero-carbon buildings. Buildings with BIPV aren’t just using energy; they’re also generating it in a sustainable way. In fact, BIPV systems will have a key role to play as architects work towards creating carbon positive buildings – offsetting more carbon than they consume in construction and use over the long term.

The fundamental message here is that glass is not just passive. As well as allowing architects to make the most of the sun’s energy to heat buildings, glass can also actively generate energy as a fundamental component of solar panels.

The time for BIPV is now, and with it comes new ways for architects to create buildings with a lasting legacy. Goodbye high energy bills, hello energy producing building façades.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Three is the Magic Number – Triple Glazing and the Future of Windows

Nick Shore, NSG Group

As legislative trends and market demands drive architects closer to the zero-carbon home, the pressure is on to ensure buildings are designed with energy-efficiency at their core. Every construction material is expected to demonstrate the most exceptional efficiency values possible.

Architects may particularly feel the strain when it comes to the glass that they use in windows. As they are pressured to find more and more energy efficient windows, the limits of what double-glazing can do will be reached. It’s in this context that triple-glazing has come to the fore. With three panes in each Insulating Glass Unit (IGU), triple-glazing offers unprecedented levels of thermal insulation, as well as a host of other benefits that have the potential to transform our cities’ carbon credentials.

But isn’t triple-glazing a bit overkill? A few years ago, it was viewed as the preserve of the Nordic extremes. While the benefits of converting from single- to double-glazing were clear, bulky triple-glazing units were often seen as a step too far; sacrificing too much natural light in the push for more efficient glazing.

Fortunately, this has all changed now. Advances in manufacturing techniques have made thinner, clearer panes of glass possible in recent years. With vacuum glazing products like Pilkington Spacia™ now readily available, triple-glazing units can even be created that are thinner than standard double-glazed windows – just 21mm thick. This means that modern triple-glazing can now be fitted to blend in seamlessly with almost any building façade, giving architects more freedom to specify triple-glazing without compromising on the appearance, clarity of view, or the amount of natural light entering a building.

So why is triple-glazing beginning to grow in popularity? In short; it offers unprecedented levels of thermal insulation, while preserving all of the traditional benefits of having windows. It enables stunning designs incorporating full-glass façades even in the coldest of winters.


Pilkington energiKare™ Triple used in a Passiv Haus renovation in London

The energy efficiency benefits of triple glazing are fairly simple – the more panes of glass, the less heat can escape. But the most effective triple-glazing units do much more. While blocking heat from escaping, they need to be effective at allowing as much solar heat gain (‘free energy’) from the sun as possible – a task made more difficult with three panes.

But it’s not just thermal insulation that makes triple-glazing such a versatile material for architects. Triple-glazing units (IGUs) contain six individual glass surfaces that can be coated with high-performance technology to enhance the window’s performance. For example, the outermost pane could be self-cleaning, while two of the inner panes are solar control and low-e coatings. The thicknesses of each pane can also be altered to improve safety, security and noise reduction performance.

So what about countries with cold winters but hot summers? From the outset it is important for architects to balance the ultra effective thermal insulation properties of triple-glazing with sufficient natural cooling systems in the buildings they design. Be it combining triple-glazing with the use of brise soleil – exterior structural shading – or simply making sure windows can be opened; the solutions are simple and the insulating benefits gained in winter will far outweigh the pause for thought when the plans are on the drawing board.

If I have one message to end on, it’s that triple-glazing isn’t scary. It has the potential to help transform our cities into the low-carbon hubs of tomorrow, and is fast becoming an essential material for the carbon-conscious architects of today. As it makes the switch from niche product to the mainstream, now is the time to understand the possibilities of triple-glazing.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Littoral Urbanism: The Precarious Socio-Ecology of Urban Waterfronts

Steven Velegrinis, Woods Bagot

So, we are now living in world of seven billion people. In the 21st Century, population growth is one of the most significant contributors to the environmental and economic challenges facing the Earth. The Asian continent is at the forefront of this challenge as Asia is host to 70% of the world’s top ten mega/metacities. Considering projected population growth and urbanisation in China and India alone, it is likely that new urban development will need to accommodate between 900,000,000 and 1,200,000,000 people by 2050. That is just for India and China, based on current population and urbanisation predictions.

If we consider the global situation, the United Nations predicts that we will need to build enough new urban development for 3,300,000,000 people by 2050 (when 75% of the population will live in cities).

Over 50% of the global population currently live in cities and the vast majority are located in waterfront areas. In total 40% of the global population live within 100 kilometres of the coast and another approximately 45% of the human population live within 100 kilometres of inland waterfronts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted sea level rises of five metres from current levels if we do not change our ways. The resulting crisis is clear for urban areas which have always gravitated to waterfronts.

Major urban conurbations like the 40 million people in the Pearl River Delta, 15 million people in Bangkok, 16 million people in the Mekong Delta and 8 million people in Dhaka are at significant risk of sea level rises.

In the environmental design professions we can no longer shrug our shoulders and assume that Climate Change is someone else’s problem. Our daily choice is now whether to be part of the problem or part of the solution. These challenges require a new approach to waterfront development which recognises and embraces the ecology of water and sea level change in master planning of waterfront developments.

Governments are increasingly paying serious attention to the issues of sea level change in urban planning. In Abu Dhabi the 2030 Masterplan establishes minimum platform levels for waterfront development at four metres above current mean sea level.

In Singapore the Public Utilities Board conducted the strategic ABC Waterways urban planning review of every waterbody, drain and reservoir in the country with a view to consolidating water resources, using waterbodies wisely and protecting water resources from rising sea levels.

At Woods Bagot we have attempted to recognise our responsibility to not just to avoid doing more damage but rather to improve the health of waterbodies in our master planning work. In projects like the Wuqing Masterplan in Tianjin, our plan addresses the non point-source pollution caused by agriculture and industry by restoring the river ecology and treating and returning wastewater to a river that was almost completely drained by irrigation schemes.

In the Middle East we have used the required establishment of raised platform levels to institute a hydraulic system that treats all wastewater on site through the landscape and creates additional mangrove habitat. In effect we are seeking to create development prompted by the simple question of ‘What if every act of design left the world a better place?’

While current approaches to sustainable development reduce the environmental harm caused by the construction and operation of new buildings, we need to go beyond reducing the impact of new development to creating buildings and places that contribute to the healing of compromised human and ecological systems. If not we risk becoming the captains on the bridge of sinking ships.

Steven Velegrinis is Urban Design Practice Leader at Woods Bagot. He grew up in Australia and pursued a career in Urban Planning & Heritage Conservation before embarking on a career in Landscape Architecture. After spending almost a decade in Asia, Steven moved to the Middle East four years ago and took up a position with Woods Bagot as their Urban Design Practice Leader for the Middle East. His recent work & PhD research seeks to promote the idea of Landscape Urbanism as the future for sustainable urban development in the Middle East and Asia

Glass & the Sustainability Equation

Nick Shore, NSG Group

40% of all the energy consumed in the EU is used in buildings. All this power, heating and cooling in turn accounts for a whopping 36% of total CO2 emissions across member states. This represents just the tip of the iceberg as part of a much broader global issue that we need to address.

Changing the way we generate energy is of course part of the answer; and in a future blog post we’ll look at the untapped potential of solar power. But a smarter move is simply to use less energy in the first place. And buildings are great places to start in making this happen.

How? By changing the way we think about energy, placing it at the heart of building design and construction, rather than the afterthought it can all too often be today. This entails looking at the very fabric of the buildings we are designing in a new light, and this is where it gets exciting.

Clever architectural design matched with innovative construction materials means it’s often possible to eliminate the need for energy hungry – not to mention increasingly expensive – heating and cooling technologies. Let’s look at the role of glass as just one example.

Pilkington Eclipse Advantage (with a blue tint) in action in the Al Fardan Towers, Doha

Take the Middle East for instance. With average highs of 35°C in countries such as Saudi Arabia, it’s impressive the region’s skyscrapers, glistening with all that glass, aren’t more like greenhouses than office blocks. In the past, keeping these buildings cool meant packing them with environmentally and financially costly air conditioning systems. Advances in glass technology, driven by R&D teams like ours at NSG, mean that coated, body-tinted and laminated glass ranges can now filter out the worst of the sun’s radiant heat. Using solar control glass in this way can also help control glare, which can be just as much of an annoyance as being too hot.

Of course, keeping buildings cool is not such a concern for architects working in colder climes. Here, ultra thin double-glazing, innovative triple-glazing and other insulating coated glass units are revolutionising the way buildings are constructed. Special thermal ranges like Pilkington Optitherm™ allow architects to design buildings that maximise the precious natural light and solar heat available, without letting heat escape. This is possible because the heat coming in and getting out are at different wavelengths, so we can design glass compositions and coatings that selectively pass or block one category and not the other.

Likewise, vacuum glazing options such as Pilkington Spacia™ mean that even the oldest period properties can be brought up to standard. The extremely thin glazing units provide great thermal insulation, but can still be fitted in old-fashioned window frames, maintaining the original appearance of traditional buildings. This is a key part of the mix, especially given the number of leaky old buildings dotted across Europe.

Products like Pilkington Spacia can be retrofitted to period properties, like this museum in Amsterdam

Yet it’s temperate regions in which the biggest challenge arguably lies. Countries with hot summers and cold winters cannot rely simply on solar control or insulating glass to reduce energy consumption. Huge strides forward in the glass industry have given architects unprecedented options for improved energy efficiency in buildings in these climates. Products like Pilkington Eclipse™ Advantage combine low emissivity with solar control properties; helping keep a building comfortable, and energy bills lower, all year round.

So glass can do far more than just keep the wind and rain out. It can drastically reduce CO2 emissions and monthly energy bills too and it pays to remember this when sitting down at the drawing board. We won’t be able to make all our building stock zero-carbon simply by changing the way we specify glass. But it’s certainly an important and smart place to start. What matters is that you don’t stop there.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Social Infrastructure the Lifeblood of a Cities Spirit

Ross Donaldson, Woods Bagot

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s people live in cities, with nearly two billion new urban residents expected in the next twenty years; estimating that by 2050, 80% of the population will live in urban areas.

As cities grow at an ever-increasing speed, the road to realising urban environments that deliver high liveability value are becoming a challenge. In a report chartered by the Economist [Liveable Cities Challenges and opportunities for policymakers, The Economist] that investigates the latest thinking about urban liveability, there is a resounding call that a top-down model of urban planning is no longer appropriate, and that there is a desperate need to foster a more lateral approach to urban planning in order to help cities thrive. I agree.

Recently, I presented at the annual World Class Cities conference held in Istanbul, where the heart of my discussion paper and presentation lay in the underlying premise that social infrastructure is the lifeblood of a cities spirit. I strongly believe that investing and embedding social infrastructure such as schools, cultural institutions, health and places of worship that breathe life deep into the fabric of the city, not in separated precincts, into our dense urban environments and public space amenity, will enable our globe to embrace urbanism and drive the output of liveable cities for tomorrow.

In fact, so strongly was my interest in the relationship between social infrastructure and high liveability value, our team at Woods Bagot decided to embark on some research, ask some questions and provide, perhaps not concrete answers, but inexplicable links to the power that social infrastructure has, and plays in a city’s urban wellbeing – again, that notion of ‘liveability.’

As we did, come with us and let us cast our eyes across the globe. As we know it, the weaving of community infrastructure that is intricately linked to the greater cities framework, such as the High Line project in New York City, Florida’s Public Library System and Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum has spurred on ancillary development and proved to inject direct economic benefit.

The High Line has spurred an estimated US$2bn in ancillary development, including 2,500 apartment units and 12,000 jobs have been added to the economy since 2009. Similarly, the direct economic benefit of Florida’s Public Library System to organisations and individuals is estimated at US$6bn per annum.

Furthermore, the renowned Bilbao effect associated with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum was in fact due to a comprehensive series of projects totalling over US$1.5bn including but not limited to, the Basque Public University Auditorium, KIASMA Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Euskalduna Bridge.

So, what is this telling us you ask? The pursuit of modest scale community infrastructure rather than mega ‘star-architecture,’ has proved to be a successful formula for both New York, Florida, and Bilbao in spurring on economic prosperity, adding life and everyday experiences of local communities – truly elevating liveability for locals. Yet how do we achieve a true elevation of liveability for our cities across the globe?

A fundamental link to the success of our urban environments lies in the way in which the city is operated. Further research undertaken by Woods Bagot found that cities that perform consistently well in the index of liveability (as cited in the Liveable Cities Index, ‘The Economist Intelligence Unit’) also have governance mechanisms that allow these cities to implement infrastructure on a city-wide scale.

Hence, the key lies in the way in which the city is operated. Cities that have an interstitial layer of governance, where a metropolitan wide level of authority is solely responsible for a single city, enables appropriately planned community scale infrastructure that is unique to its sense of place.

On the surface perhaps it seems quite straight forward, however to this day, urban planning schemes continue to neglect the evidence of liveable cities – addressing issues that deal with the well being of inhabitants, the strength of a community and the increasing need of civic engagement. We continue to plan for precincts of social infrastructure often disconnected from, rather than integrated with the broader fabric of the city. Investing and embedding social infrastructure such as schools, healthcare, cultural institutions and places of worship that breathe life into our dense urban environments, will enable our globe to embrace urbanism and drive the output of liveable cities for tomorrow.

Ross Donaldson is a registered architect and urban planner with over 25 years of experience, with a wide range of involvement in architectural, urban design and community planning projects. He was the Director for the Education and Science Sector for Woods Bagot and in 2007 was appointed Managing Director for the Group.

How green is Glass?

Nick Shore, NSG Group

One of the most common questions I get asked by architects is ‘How green is glass?’ As our cities are transformed with an abundance of glazed façades, stricter legislation on carbon emissions and energy efficiency means that architects need to be sure that the glass they use is fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

These legislative changes have been driven by concerns about global warming, fuel availability and pricing, and sustainability of natural resources. Recognising these issues, the glass industry has created ever more environmentally-beneficial products, combining the traditional benefits of glass with properties normally associated with other building materials, such as steel, brick and concrete, to address these needs. Modern glass ranges aren’t just there to let light in or make a building look pretty, they’re incredibly functional and versatile too.

For example, in warmer climates coated or tinted glass can now be used to block a higher proportion of infra-red and visible radiation, reducing the need for artificial cooling in buildings while still letting natural light in. In cooler climates, double- and triple- glazing and special coated glass units maximise the amount of passive heat entering the building, while at the same time preventing heat from escaping outwards.

In fact, the right glass can help save vast amounts of energy. In the typical British house, energy-efficient double glazing will save around 90kg of CO2 per year compared to single glazing, paying back the energy cost of the glass’s manufacture in just a few months (more on that in a later post). If all of the inefficient single glazing in existing buildings across Europe was upgraded, it could save over 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year, about a third of the EUs target for energy savings in buildings by 2020.

The possibilities that glass now offers to architects is not always a message that gets through. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll outline some of the ways architects can now use glass to achieve almost any desired effect, as well as some of the more interesting glass technology currently transforming the way we design buildings and cities.

So, in answer to the perennial question, glass is very green indeed. You just need to know how to use it.

Nick Shore is Sustainability Director for the NSG Group’s Building Products division. His remit is the creation and implementation of sustainability strategy to ensure it remains a core value at the heart of what the NSG Group does. The NSG Group is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of glass and glazing systems in three major business areas; Building Products, Automotive and Specialty Glass.

Campus as Eco-District: Capturing the Advantages of Holistic, Long-term Planning

Jeffrey Till, Woods Bagot

Over the past decade, colleges and universities have emerged as key champions of sustainable design and construction. It’s a win-win for these institutions, allowing them to counter rising fuel and energy costs, align with the environmental values of students and faculty, bolster their institutional identities, and forge new collaborations between researchers and industry. However, while universities have advanced sustainable design in individual buildings and new expansion campuses, many have yet to identify a clear strategy that addresses their existing campuses as a whole. If each campus can be seen as discreet ‘eco-district’, then designing an environmentally beneficial and technically sound vision for its future is key to creating the momentum and shared goals needed to drive integrated, long-term sustainability.

Conversely, failure to enact campus-wide sustainable strategies has significant implications. Ambitious performance goals for new ‘green buildings’ that aren’t supported by corresponding improvements to sustainable campus infrastructure can cost more to realize. Because older, inefficient existing buildings and infrastructure are a major source of carbon emissions, a focus on individual new facilities does little to diminish a campus’ carbon footprint.

The challenges to developing a comprehensive long-term approach are complex, and comprise independently managed funding sources; competing organizational entities (faculty, facilities, administration); and donor perspectives. Critical components such as a state-of-the-art central plant can dramatically improve the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings, yet it may fall in between the funding mechanisms and organizational priorities of capital planners, facilities managers, and fundraisers, whose donor base prefers to see their names on academic or cultural buildings. A successful long-range campus eco-district plan works to align the resources and shared values of different stakeholder groups around clear incremental steps forward.

An eco-district plan works to coordinate the full range of strategies for a sustainable retrofit, from mechanical systems upgrades, to window and lighting replacements, and to user behavioral changes. Combining these into a measurably effective master plan with a ‘net zero’ or similar performance goal can bring the vision of long-term sustainability into focus for everyone involved. This eco-district plan should include key milestones for infrastructure, buildings, and site improvements that balance investments over time against achievable performance improvements for carbon reduction, water conservation, waste-cycle efficiency, and their related cost savings. The ultimate role of each building, old and new, and the systems which support them should be visible to the entire community.

With a plan that includes a clear vision and metrics for evaluating progress, stakeholders can then understand and track incremental achievements within a long-term environmental and financial context. This comprehensive approach will allow the next-generation ‘sustainable campus’ to evolve beyond fragmented solutions into an identifiable and memorable place, with a culture of sustainability and pride in its own campus ecosystem.

University of Technology, Sydney, Building 5 designed by Woods Bagot

Below are some common challenges and solutions for working towards a sustainable campus master plan.

The donor challenge: Do I want my legacy to be a new library or a new central plant?
Solution: Broadcast ‘invisible’ improvements.

Many donors hope to see their funds associated with highly visible, concrete benefits such as a new academic building or research institute, yet the numerous resource efficiencies that come from centralized MEP systems often remain hidden. Exposing better performance is key, and it isn’t as hard as it sounds. We’re already attuned to the importance and identity of things we can’t see, from the ‘Intel inside’ our tech devices to the Synergy Drive engines in our hybrid cars. Advanced systems that include easily accessible dashboards, or campus-wide ‘green screens’ that broadcast real-time energy savings, can make such upgrades more donor-friendly. In addition, institutions can also cast major assets such as solar arrays or fuel cells as being ‘donor enabled’.

The facilities manager’s challenge: How can we upgrade our windows when we can barely afford to fix the roof?
Solution: Build a clear business case.

Uniting operating and capital budgets into a comprehensive allocation strategy allows managers to optimize and synchronize maintenance improvements and campus-wide systems upgrades over time. For example, higher performing windows or lights might be installed as part of routine maintenance in anticipation of other improvements that together will drive greater leaps in energy efficiency down the road. Money lost from operating and maintaining outdated equipment can be recaptured for sustainability upgrades. In addition, an energy audit and energy performance contract with an energy savings company can also help defray initial costs and specify payback periods, allowing tomorrow’s savings to offset today’s costs. Designing a system which can capture these advantages, in both campus infrastructure and buildings, allows direct accountability for each investment.

The administrators’ challenge: How do we jumpstart this long-term process?
Solution: Rally campus support for a unified design vision.

Instigating a sustainable campus eco-district plan requires that architects, planners, and engineers present stakeholders and the campus community with a multidisciplinary offering: a healthy, sustainable learning environment capable of net-zero or other performance benchmarks that are made legible through advanced feedback systems, tangible metrics, and design upgrades. Early stakeholder involvement, combined with advanced interdisciplinary modelling technologies and enhanced performance and utilization data enables the design team to tune options to a campus’ financial and user demands. This fine tuning in turn helps create a unified ‘culture of sustainability’ that resonates with donors, administrators, and occupants alike.

Ultimately, viewing the campus as an integrated ecosystem has significant environmental, financial, and social rewards, from rationalizing investments in resource-saving equipment and technologies, to exploiting symbiotic exchange between complimentary systems, for example, by using daytime waste heat from a lab building for night-time climate comfort in a library. Architects, engineers and planners have the capacity to bring disparate approaches into a resonant vision around which campus leaders, stakeholders, and community members can mobilize their commitment to a long-term, sustainable future.

Jeffrey Till brings twenty-five years of architectural and master planning experience to his role as Design Director, Global Leader Sustainability at Woods Bagot. He leads design on a range of projects for clients with high-level sustainability goals, with a focus on research-driven process and performance strategies.

The evolving green workplace; Sustainability is now about more than just eco-stuff

David Craven, Woods Bagot

In its early stages the green building movement, by necessity, sought to define what constitutes green building by focusing on the development of tools intended to codify and rate the constructed outcome – an understandable approach if mass industry transformation is the goal. We are, however, moving into a more mature phase in the evolution of green building and, therefore, our definition of what is green also needs to expand.

Our clients views on sustainability have also changed over this period, as reporting practices have begun to normalise around key global methodologies such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project. It is perhaps no coincidence that this evolution has occurred in parallel with the ongoing economic uncertainty that has been the key characteristic of our operating environment for the last four years or so.

This macroeconomic context is also driving many organisations to revisit their accommodation strategies. Of course this can, in part, be attributed to a need to reduce risk and the impact of leasing cost on the bottom line but, in addition to simple cost cutting, many organisations are also beginning to realise that by reinventing their approach to workplace, they will not only deliver an environment that reduces their real estate costs but also one that adds value by promoting collaboration, facilitating agility and ultimately delivering business innovation and supporting their sustainability aspirations.

When we lift the hood on many of our client’s existing workplaces we find that the utilisation of space during the course of a normal working day is typically lower than they think. Of course, the amount of time an individual spends at a desk varies with their role and personal workstyle, but it is not unusual to find average desk utilisation lying somewhere in the range of 30-40%.

We have to ask ourselves whether it is really sustainable to heat, cool and light an environment, no matter how green the materials from which it is made or how efficient the technology, if it is only being used for a third of the time?

If we broaden our focus from the design outcome to the utilisation of space over time, the opportunity to achieve sustainability outcomes that are focused on performance in operation opens up. Data on space utilisation can be gathered, and the environment tuned in response, in real-time.

There are a number of key ingredients that are required to facilitate this kind of agility in the workplace. Primarily these are enabling mobile communications technologies, and an organisational management style that is genuinely outcome focused.

Thankfully we are finding that many of our workplace clients are increasingly willing to explore more innovative approaches to workplace design that seek to integrate the physical environment with the appropriate technology and management structures to not only drive business performance, but also significantly reduce the environmental footprint of the organisation in operation.

David Craven
Woods Bagot

David is an architect, sustainable buildings advocate and General Manager Sustainability based in Woods Bagot’s London studio. He has been focused on the Green Building Industry for over 18 years, and has held sustainable buildings leadership positions in the private, public, academic and not-for-profit sectors.

Architecture in the Tropics

Statistics tell us that approximately 40% of the world’s population lives within the tropical zone; and by 2060 60% of the human population will reside in the tropics [Wikipedia]. ‘Tropical architecture’ is by no means a new phenomena that has entered the design world, and following recent project work across a variety of landscapes throughout Australia we see a dearth of innovation. So, is it time we re-think how we approach tropical design? It seems a rightful plight for fellow designers with over half of the world’s population set to inhibit tropical zones.

Woods Bagot has been fortunate enough to do some work in far north Queensland, in the wet tropics.

The work on our successful design competition for The Cairns Institute was the result of a period spent talking and thinking about what it meant to work in the tropics, and how this might influence outcomes.

At the outset of the competition we did what we normally do: research the topic and the place, see what others are doing, learn from history. But we found a scarcity of conceptual thinking and approach. Many recent projects appear to have the same author: the buildings look more or less the same, and have been designed using similar tools. This got me curious – how might ‘tropicalness’ be re-interpreted from a design perspective in order to deliver an alternative approach to tropical architecture?

How can we move beyond simple rainwater solutions with wide eaves and the commonplace ‘veranda, big gutter and shade’ approach to design for the tropics?

The brief for the building is serendipitous in that it called for a ‘completely tropical building’ – The Institute is focused solely on the tropics and consequently wanted to create a building that represented what that meant. At the heart of the project – at a cultural and civic level – is the desire to create an environment and building that provides for a wide range of stakeholders and participants.

This is what we think of when we consider the tropics, a selection of ideas and reflections that have informed our thinking:

The tropics have an enormous biodiversity and therefore demonstrate a high level of evolution. The wet tropics have a heightened evolutionary quality: life, death, decay, recycling and re-growth are all visible, legible and obvious. Growth is quick and observable; it almost happens before your eyes. The air is thick and humid, the environment is demanding and quick to exploit weakness in man-made environments.

In the tropics, the notion of the orthogonal, square-cornered, colonial grid is an outdated idea. New and relevant diagrams and organisational tools need to be established to provoke a fresh approach to what the idea of ‘building’ and ‘city’ in the tropics might be, finely tuned to place and participants. Our proposal for The Cairns Institute was formed following a thorough landscape and place analysis of the campus context and landform. We came to understand that there were extraordinary spaces within the existing landscape that were particularly successful and had the ability to become the symbol of the campus.

Nature suggests an informality of structure; tropical culture is not square and right-angled. Accordingly, urban design and ‘pattern’ should be less orthogonal and instead become fluid and adaptive. The relationships between built and unbuilt, and constructed open space and natural landform and geology, is important, informing the way the air moves, the type of flora and fauna we find and hence how micro ecologies exist.

Place making
Place making in the landscape is a key starting point. Where does place making start? Where does the idea of public begin and private end? We believe that this concept has not been explored to its full extent in the Australian tropics. We seek to redefine what a tropical civic building could be, and how it relates to the community.

The influence and reach of a building’s footprint is exacerbated and expanded in the tropics, particularly in a natural setting. The building’s location impacts the climate, immediate environment and natural ecology that exist between buildings.

Air movement in all corners and places is of absolute importance. The tropics are a haven for mosquitoes and other blood-sucking insects, all of which thrive in still air. Air movement on the skin and through space must be maintained if the use of external space is to be optimised.

Mark Damant, Principal,
Woods Bagot

Mark Damant brings a wealth of knowledge to his projects, having practised for more than 25 years in diverse roles across three continents. His focus is to ensure that the client’s design aspirations are clearly understood and that the final built solution exceeds their expectations. Based in the Brisbane studio Mark has been instrumental in the realisation of recent projects including: Brooklyn on Brookes, The Cairns Institute, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Waterfront Place.

Cool in the city

Mongolia doesn’t naturally spring to mind as a pioneer in ECO systems, but an innovative plan to utilise vast ice blocks to cool the capital, Ulan Bator, is about to change all that.

The innovative geoengineering trial being funded by the Ulan Bator government to the tune of £460k GBP, aims to ‘store’ freezing winter temperatures in a giant block of ice that will help to cool and water the city as it slowly melts during the summer.

In the trial due to start in weeks, Mongolian engineering firm ECOS & EMI will attempt to ramp up a naturally occurring phenomena called a Naled where spring water builds up layers of ice on an already frozen river.

They plan to do this over the winter by drilling bore holes into the ice that has started to form on the Tuul River. The water will be pumped up and discharged across the surface, where it will freeze overnight. This process will be repeated at regular intervals throughout the winter.

The Anglo-Mongolian company believe their proposed use in Ulan Bator could set a positive example that allows northern cities around the world to save on summer air conditioning costs, regulate drinking supplies, and create cool microclimates

Michael Hammond
Editor in Chief at WAN