Jessica Hume, from DWP|Suters, has gained extensive experience through her contribution to a range of small and large projects.

Her recent experience is predominantly in the residential, health and seniors living sectors. She was also recently on the team to develop the design work for the Brickworks Living Building Challenge.

Architecture and Design spoke to Hume about working on the Challenge, learning about biomimicry, and how competitive cycling led her to architecture.

Can you tell A&D about your design for the Brickworks Living Building Challenge?

Our vision for the ‘world’s most sustainable shopping centre’ is inspired by the genius loci (spirit of place) of the site. Taking inspiration from the history of the site, DWP|Suters’ scheme imbues the layers of past uses into a new narrative. Celebrating the usually hidden systems of production, waste, water treatment and consumption, our building displays are a carefully considered and educational composition. 

To be certified under the Living Building Challenge, the Brickworks retail centre must meet ruthless performance requirements, including generating 105 percent of its energy needs on-site and net zero waste and water over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy.

Our approach goes a step beyond the recycling and management of waste produced on-site to consider the recycling and layering of the site itself. This idea stems out of our desire to maintain the existing narrative of the site and embraces the reality that at some point we have to recycle the buildings themselves. The use of rammed earth as a building material that is produced on-site also links back to the narrative of the former brickworks. 

Prefabricated design and modular construction is used because it’s faster and creates less waste. This is perfect for a fast paced industry like retail because the inherent flexibility of modular units adapts well to changing retail operations. The retail offering has the potential to change based on demand.

Our prefabricated design softens the scale of the retail tenancies. We include units with smaller retail frontages that are at a pedestrian scale. This is in keeping with the market halls of the ‘old town’ and high streets of the past.

Why did you decide to take that approach?

The patterns of traditional town centres and market halls did not develop based on plans; the city was not a goal in itself, but a tool formed by use. New buildings as needed were injected into the existing urban morphology. The contemporary trend to build to the full extent of lot boundaries is concurrent with an increase in land value. Towns no longer grow by fine-grained individual buildings; stereotypically developers now seek permits for larger developments as a method for generating the maximum economic return. We introduced modularity to allow the site to grow and shrink based on demand. It becomes a reflection of consumption and consumer choice. This ties in well with our billabong concept, based on the notion of water as a meeting place, and like the billabong, retail is seasonal. 

The Brickworks is envisioned as a nexus for sustainable awareness, community building and a model of urban agriculture that can be adopted at home. The end game is to get patrons to consider the far-reaching impacts of their lifestyle choices. One such lifestyle choice is walking to the retail centre.

We soften the typical hard exterior edges of a retail centre with the longest façade covered by a green wall. This shades the western façade, grows native bush tucker and provides pedestrians with a shaded refuge from Middleborough Rd.

Riparian planting of local species creates wildlife corridors and borders pedestrian links from residential neighbourhood to the heart of the retail centre.  By cultivating walking and making it a delight, the project gives new energy to the space, not only to the space of the retail centre but also the interstitial space of the surrounding streets. 

What were some of the challenges of developing the design?

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) sets the most rigorous design standards. We were a collaboration of 30 professionals and as a result we had a lot of data that informed our design outcome. The challenge was maintaining the architecture of the scheme with all the requirements set by the LBC; construction feasibility and the commercial retail requirements. We wrestled internally to balance satisfying the LBC requirements with creating a visually engaging architectural response.  There was a learning curve; our first idea for the roof actually increased the embodied energy of the design!

What were some key things you learnt from the Building Challenge?

Personally I did not know a great deal about biomimicry before embarking on the challenge. The 14 key principles of biomimicry in design are used to inform our design response and are reflected throughout the proposal. I now look at projects and question what principles of biomimicry we can apply to this building; does the building provide its occupants with both prospect and refuge?

You have experience across a few sectors. Which one do you most enjoy?

I loved working on the design competition for the Brickworks because the project challenged the social norms of a typical retail centre. It made retail healthy, beautiful, sustainable and educational – a nexus of community activity. I guess the challenge is to apply that to all sectors that then makes all sectors just as exciting. 

What inspired you to become an architect?

I did a lot of competitive cycling when I was younger, which involved countless hours riding. To make all those hours on my bike more tolerable I used to go on quests to find my favourite houses and streets. Looking back on it I am pretty sure I have ridden down nearly every street in Wagga on this quest. I’m sure all those rides inspired me in one way or another. Today I’m inspired by the desire to create something that adds value to the people who use it.