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Towards a New Normal

Globally, buildings and construction account for nearly 40% of energy related carbon dioxide emissions. This makes designing sustainable buildings and cities imperative. As temperatures and sea-levels rise and extreme weather events increase in frequency, we’ll need to design differently.

In July, JWA became one of 30 founding signatories to the Australian Architects Declare movement. Australia is the third country to join the global movement, founded in the United Kingdom in May. Its declaration recognises climate breakdown and biodiversity loss as the most serious issues of our time.   

In September, we marched with 300,000 people across Australia to support a movement initiated by school children to drive climate action. We watched as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg implored world leaders at the UN Climate Change summit to reduce global emissions.

These events have generated significant momentum within our practice and the broader industry. The task now is to translate this momentum into change. To prompt a collective reconsideration about the way we act as individuals, the we work, the way we use finite resources and build our cities. Fundamentally, we must rethink how we live and what we value.

JWA recently launched a speaker series that will invite industry leaders to visit our studio and tell us about their work. In October we invited Ross Harding, Founding Director of Finding Infinity, to present his 10 initiatives for ‘A New Normal’. Together they provide a pathway for Melbourne to become autonomous and self-sustaining.

Ross’ initiatives include electrifying architecture, energy storage, water treatment facilities, and implementing new building codes that mandate net positive buildings for new buildings. Ross cited examples of initiatives being implemented in other countries, raising the question of why we’ve been so slow to adopt like measures. They provide a new standard for design: A New Normal.

Our Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) team has devised a series of initiatives to embed principles into our practice that respond to the need for a “New Normal” – through passive design, building technology, embodied energy and services. These will continue to evolve and develop.

We’ve been privileged to work with many progressive institutions and individuals whose vision for a sustainable future has encouraged us to explore innovative approaches to material use, passive heating and cooling systems and novel methodologies for façade envelopes, glazing and insulation – in turn  reducing reliance on mechanical systems for maintaining internal environments. We’ve also worked with some extraordinary multi-disciplinary consultant teams to achieve outcomes that break new ground. This highly collaborative endeavour leads to change.

Yet we all need to do more if we’re to meet Paris Climate Agreement targets to reduce emissions by 28% before 2030. Our new National Construction Code pushes for a 35% reduction in energy consumption in all new commercial buildings.

A JWA project focused on optimum energy performance is Limestone House, which takes on the dual challenge of Passivhaus certification and the Living Building Challenge. There are synergies in the application of these two green building standards – materials, water, air quality and energy considerations. The house will be self-sufficient in managing its water and wastewater and has a photovoltaic cell system with battery storage to meet the house’s total energy needs.

Another project testing the boundaries of current construction technology is the Ballarat GovHub for Development Victoria. Constructed from engineered timber, the building meets ambitious social and environmental sustainability aspirations to regenerate a key civic site in this growing regional centre. Previous projects like the Melbourne School of Design not only achieved a 6 Star GBCA rating but explored the potential of long span timber structures and mixed mode ventilation strategies. The Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Hobart is a research facility for study of the Southern Ocean: its main theme is climate change and its impacts. Using seawater drawn from the Derwent River, the building’s heating and cooling system provides active mass cooling for offices and pre-cools ventilation air throughout the building.

Over coming months, as we meet more inspiring changemakers, we’ll keep you updated on new initiatives and projects as they take shape. Stay tuned!

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