Jorge Chapa is executive director – Green Star at the Green Building Council of Australia. He has an architecture degree from the University of Monterrey in Mexico and a Masters in Design Science from the University of Sydney. He also worked as an ESD consultant and product assessor with EcoSpecifier, and was an architect with the Buchan Group.
Architecture & Design spoke to Chapa about his education in Mexico, how it is dealing with sustainability and how great designs can be ruined by bad products.
You gained your degree from the University of Monterrey in Mexico. How do you think the approach to architecture in Mexico differs from Australia?
Mexico has a rich tradition of great historic and modern architecture, beginning with Luis Barragan and continuing with Ricardo Legorreta, Mario Schjetnan and the firm TEN Architects. These provided me with a good foundation when I arrived on Australian soil in 2003.
One of the things that struck me was that Australian architects were generally more conscious of the merits of green design. However, this is changing and there are now some inspiring examples of modern sustainable architecture in Mexico. I recommend reading up on Cinepolis Headquarters, Via Corporativo, and Papalote Verde in my hometown of Monterrey. There’s even the Manuel Gea Gonzales Hospital, which has a smog-eating façade funded by the Mexican government.
Are architects dealing with sustainability well in Australia?
I think architects in general are conscious of the role of good design and do their best to maximise the inherent qualities of the place and space. Architects are increasingly conscious of material selection and efficiency. Some of the architects that inspire me – such as the teams at Lyons Architecture, CCM and Metier3 – do great work to make congruent choices between aesthetics and sustainability.
How has your educational background in Mexico influenced your work in Australia?
It opened my mind to the opportunities that culture and heritage can bring to great architecture and sense of place. Having lived close to the United States, and having been exposed to the ‘cookie cutter’ approach in most American cities, it made me realise the importance of the sense of place and serenity that good architecture can create. Perhaps this explains my love of Melbourne’s eclectic architecture and why wandering through the city’s laneways makes me feel like I’m home.
You've worked as both a product assessor and architect. How has each role influenced the other?
It’s given me a good understanding of the relationships between both. As an architect you learn that buildings behave and breathe differently based on whether they are made with timber, steel, bricks, concrete and so on, and the effect that choice has on the design. Working as a product assessor made me consider how the material qualities and impacts of the product can either enhance or detract from a space, not just in the visual sense. Great designs can be ruined by poor products and good looking products might make a bad design tolerable, but they will never make it shine. There needs to be a correlation between both the design of the place and the qualities of the products.
Do you think architects are adequately educated in the types of products they can use to make a building more sustainable?
I think there’s a lot of misinformation and it’s easy to be fooled by marketing. That’s why the GBCA believes independent product certification can help people make informed choices when selecting products. Alternatively, understanding and using environmental product declarations can help make comparisons during product selection.
In the future, architects will be masters of life cycle impact analysis and use tools to improve their designs. The software tools to make this a reality are out there and are becoming more readily available.