Paul Stoller, director, Atelier Ten, recently spoke as part of the MPavilion's series in Melbourne on the subjects of Utopia.

Stoller teaches environmental design at the UTS School of Architecture in Sydney and has been recognised by the US Green Building Council, which named him a LEED Fellow in 2013.

Architecture and Design spoke to him about utopia, sustainability changes in the industry, and why Australia needs to turn its attention to older homes.

Can you tell A&D about your MPavilion topic of utopia?

Utopia prompts both the vision of a better world and the simultaneous ironic realisation of how far short we fall – often unintentionally, sometimes necessarily.

Do you believe there can be a utopia and perfectly designed city?

Any Utopian city is inherently dystopian: a utopia necessarily privileges one vision of perfection at the expense of all others. Cities succeed when they offer a multitude of experiences that appeal to the widest range of people, and people’s diverse wants and needs.  

The MPavilion discussion returned time and again to the idea that society, and our built environment, thrives on diversity. Accordingly, the pursuit of utopia must be carefully restrained so as not to exclude people.

How much has changed with sustainability since you received your LEED Fellowship?

2000-2010 could be considered the decade of green buildings – when the property industry got serious about resource efficiency in individual properties and began tracking building-related ESD performance using Green Star and other new industry tools.  

From roughly 2010-2015, the era when I earned my LEED Fellowship, the property world broadened its view to tackle green precincts, neighbourhoods, and cities. We might consider this period Green Building 2.0: places.

As the industry matures and picks up even more speed, attention is shifting again toward wellness and purposefully creating healthy human environments. It appears we are beginning a new era – Green Building 3.0: people.

What is one key thing you would like to change about the approach to sustainability in Australia?

What I admire very much about Australia is that communities like to make big things happen, and quickly! The property industry in Australia, once it decided to embrace sustainability, very quickly committed to and began delivering green buildings, and within 10 years, all new office and cultural buildings now earn Green Star ratings for their sustainability.  

Similarly, the government has adopted NABERS assessments of a building’s carbon footprint and now all major commercial buildings must publish their carbon performance, and very quickly property owners have responded by improving building operating efficiency to raise their public ratings.

At yet the same time, Australia – just like the US – is reluctant to tackle smaller, harder challenges, like helping people green their homes, which would deliver health and economic benefits, as well as broader environmental and ecological ones.  

The small-scale individual home improvement, with the limited financial benefit, just doesn’t excite anyone. Yet the majority of Australians live in older homes that are crying out for improvement. I would like to refocus the sustainability industry on developing programs and systems to systematically retro-green homes, especially those of low-income folks who have the least means and often the greatest need

What buildings in Australia do you think have achieved levels of perfection?

Besides the Sydney Opera House, which also qualifies here, I admire:

* Later generations of Victorian terrace houses, which are proportioned comfortably, glazed sufficiently for ample daylight, built massively to keep temperatures stable, and shaded sufficiently by their attics and porches for year-round comfort.

* The Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne for its extraordinary compelling form and relationship to the landscape, all the more impressive for its pioneering structural and acoustic engineering.

* The MLC Centre in Sydney for successfully unifying visionary architecture, sophisticated and hugely successful place making, and new construction technologies.

* Federation Square in Melbourne for creating an incredibly successful and popular town square, and for pushing the architectural, structural, and environmental engineering limits of its time.