December 8, 2022

My Email Subject

It’s Russell Fortmeyer, Global Sustainability Leader at Woods Bagot, with another Not So Much. I spent a few weeks in October and November visiting our studios, touring projects, and meeting with our clients in Australia. In my first newsletter since returning, I wanted to focus on one broader theme and only one of the buildings I visited, but I will be returning to some of the other conversations and projects in forthcoming essays.   ​​​​​

HOW ARE YOU GOING?


Whenever I travel, which has not been that often in the last few years, I’m always reminded of the scientific fact that 99.9 percent of human DNA is exactly the same. No matter where you are and how many new faces you meet, what we share as humans will always biologically outweigh any differences we may have around things like culture or politics.


After traveling across Australia in October and November, I would say the same thing about climate action and carbon. No matter which boardroom lunch, client workshop, morning coffee, or industry panel I was facilitating, almost every conversation got back to carbon and what architecture could do to reduce, eliminate, mitigate, fumigate—basically whatever you can dream up–to meet the country’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Touring Woods Bagot’s sustainable transformation of Sydney Central Station. 

The intersection of these two stories—our shared humanity and the need to shift away from a carbon-based economy—is where my trip got interesting. There is a growing recognition in Australia, as in many advanced economies, of how the out-sized consumption of resources unequally shifts ecological and social burdens to other places and people. Undertaking a lifecycle assessment of a material supply chain, which may unveil opportunities to reduce impacts to the biosphere (e.g. less acidification of the ocean) and count toward an embodied carbon reduction target, does not necessarily speak to how that supply chain supports a community that may harvest its material stock.


In other words, the quintessentially Aussie greeting, how are you going, is something we need to ask everyone who contributes to architecture, regardless of where they live or how what they do impacts the built environment. There is a helpful vagueness in the phrase with the use of “going” that suggests a direction, as if to imply a potential for progress in however way you might respond. True progress requires a lot of us to get together and find a common understanding of how to solve the difficult challenges we face with the climate crisis. I think people get this.  

Presenting the Property Council of Australia’s 2022 keynote address.

And there were a lot of people at the Property Council of Australia’s Congress on the Gold Coast in October. Nearly every session in the whirlwind three days of talking featured some remarks around sustainability, carbon, and climate action. I joined the incredibly sociable crowd (an understatement) to share a project our studio in Los Angeles developed called Re-Charge LA, as part of a broader city initiative called Pump to Plug, which investigated the potential to remake conventional gas stations across our city into sites of play, civic amenities, or affordable housing following the eventual conversion of our automobile culture to pure electric. Urban transformation relies on solving for more than one variable—why decarbonize if you cannot use that as a way to generate mutual benefits for a wider community of stakeholders? The question every project must ask is “how wide do you want to go?”. ​​​​​

Re-Charge LA – woodsbagot.com.

I got a glimpse of what this could mean on the first full day of my trip, when I toured Woods Bagot’s Melbourne Connect project, which opened in 2021. Consisting of five buildings organized around a central garden, and located just north and east of the Central Business District, at the edge of the University of Melbourne, the project strategically combines multiple tenants as a way to generate collaboration and community between organizations that would otherwise rarely meet.


The University’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology, with more than 500 academic staff and post-graduate students, now circulate in a complex filled with a variety of start-ups and established technology companies, along with amenities like a fabrication laboratory, cafes, student accommodation, childcare center, and an innovative Science Gallery space that explores the intersection of art and science. This is the sort of project that universities everywhere dream of doing, but rarely pull off this successfully.


Melbourne Connect also received a 6 Star Green Star rating, relying on a geothermal heating and cooling system, an efficient façade design that achieved remarkable air tightness, and a rooftop solar PV system designed to offset 10 percent of the building’s energy demands. Phil Callaghan, the University’s director of operations for Melbourne Connect, who gave me the wonderful tour, told me the PV currently provides nearly 8 percent of the building’s energy, but they are working every month to tune systems to get that up to 10 percent. 

Melbourne Connect – woodsbagot.com.

That was a good reminder for those of us who work in the ideal world of design that achieving building carbon reductions in real life relies on a committed staff in operations who are paying attention to how and when people use a building, whether systems function as designed, and if the building improves after tuning.

  

And the mix of tenants is key here, since it opens the building up as a laboratory of sorts, where the usual distances between academic idealism and private sector demands are shortened, where people see every day how other people are working toward common aims, and where the success of the building in the background enables this social arrangement to emerge. It is a model for how we have to think about everything now, the way our choices impact or inspire others, shortening that distance between what used to be hidden but is now something we can know. 


@Russell Fortmeyer

WHAT AM I READING?


Degree of Urgency: Accelerating Actions to Keep 1.5°C on the TableEnergy Transitions Commission


Urban Unity: Melbourne ConnectArchitectureAU


Re-Charge LA by Woods Bagot, Rethinking the Future​​​​​​​

 

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