Dick Clarke, principal at Envirotecture, is an accredited building designer with over 35 years’ experience, focusing exclusively on ecologically sustainable and culturally appropriate buildings.

He is jury chair on this year’s Sustainability Awards, and has been a judge of the awards since they began.

Architecture and Design spoke to Clarke about what he’s looking for in the awards, why there is no other option than sustainability, and how sustainability differs across sectors in the industry.

Why is entering award programs important?

Let’s be honest – most people enter for the purposes of gaining recognition, both for themselves and their work. In the course of doing so, whether they win or not, they discover that it adds a level of discipline and forethought to their work. It’s another way of driving out the lazy ideas, encouraging us to hold the line against compromise.

What are you looking for in entries?

Apart from clear information, without which it is impossible to judge accurately, we are looking for a high-reaching brief that the design sets out to meet in a deliberate and well considered way. Or, where no such brief exists, a design or product or material that does things in a much better way than business as usual. That is where every eco impact from first to last step are considered and addressed, so that the loop is closed with no long-term detriment, or better – a restoration of previous impacts.

Why is sustainability important to you?

Because there really is no option, other than anarchy, chaos, and suffering – both for humans and all the rest.

How easy or hard do you think it is to incorporate truly sustainable design into a project?

At the conceptual design stage it’s typically quite easy. It gets harder from there to hold the line through to completion.

You’ve been a judge on the awards since the start. How have sustainability approaches changed since then?

They’ve become more sophisticated, better integrated in detail and design.

Do you believe that sustainability is now business-as-usual or is it still an add-on?

It varies from sector to sector. The big end of town has almost mainstreamed it, and the leaders in the residential sector too, but it falls away as you move out of the CBDs and into the project home sector.

What is your favourite sustainable building?

I’m still not sure what a truly sustainable building is, but we are getting closer to that understanding. I have a few favourites, and they often take turns. At the moment I’m really impressed with some of Singapore’s green buildings – and by green I mean literally green: covered and filled with plant life. CapitaGreen is a particularly impressive example, as is the Oasia Hotel. And of course the Gardens by the Bay and its delightfully whimsical SuperTrees! 

Closer to home, I still take my hat off to the Lochiel Park suburban development in Adelaide. The standards it set way back in 2003, and its logged performance ever since, is nothing short of exemplary. I’m hoping that new developments around the country, like Ingleside in Sydney’s north which will have nearly 4,000 dwellings, will stand on its shoulders, and move to carbon neutrality – along with the other components of real life that mark a more sustainable development, like protection and restoration of biodiversity, transport connectivity and so on.