The events of 2020 have seen their impact across all industries, and architecture and design is unfortunately no exception. There are clear challenges for the AECD industry going forward and with this comes a reminder of the importance of supporting Australian companies and products.
Thankfully, Australian building product designers and manufacturers have continued to innovate in recent years, developing world-class sustainable products designed to weather Australian conditions. This article will detail some of the latest trends and innovations in sustainable building materials, as well as some architecturally stunning case studies that prove ‘sustainable’ can also be synonymous with ‘beautiful’.
Faux concrete: A new trend in sustainable design?
One of the most interesting innovations in recent years has been the development of concrete alternatives, or ‘faux concrete’. Whether or not concrete itself is a “sustainable” material is really up to your interpretation. While some argue it fits the definition of sustainability due to its ability to stand the test of time, others take issue with the high level of greenhouse gas emissions and other direct environmental damage caused by the use of concrete.
For designers who love the look of concrete but not the environmental impacts, faux concrete attempts to address this conundrum. ExoTec Vero is a good example of this. The product is described as a “pre-finished concrete look option” that is part of ExoTec’s Facade System. Known for its long-term durability and water resistance, the concrete alternative is also impact-resistant, structurally stable and suitable for non-combustible construction.
ExoTec Vero was used recently in a boutique residential development in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood, where the brief was to design a building that would nestle harmoniously within the natural landscape while maximising views over the treetop canopies towards the Lane Cove River. The product was used in tandem with a mix of white render, charcoal grey render and metal, as well as natural timber elements; making the building feel like an extension of its natural surrounds.
“The combination of ExoTec Vero and [James Hardie’s] RAB Board is a great system that is Building Code Australia (BCA) compliant for non-combustible facade elements and provides excellent weather resistance,” says Anthony Melia, project manager of Novati Constructions, which worked on the Chatswood project. The product’s weather resistance was proven when there was very little leakage during a major storm period in February 2020.
The rise of timber
Timber has always been a popular Australian building material, and this is only growing with the advent of CLT, which has allowed an increasing number of commercial developments to embrace timber and all of the wellness benefits that come with it.
CLTP Australia’s CLT offering is an interesting product. CLT is typically made with softwoods, but CLTP’s offering is produced using a range of timber species, primarily a hardwood species known as Eucalyptus Nitens. According to the company, it is the world’s first commercial manufacturer of the hardwood species CLT, which has superior strength and span capability compared to other locally and internationally produced softwood CLT products.
The hardwood CLT was recently used in a high-performance home built in Birregurra, Victoria. According to CLTP, the original design allowed for a 6.5m span and a 250mm thick cassette roof panel system to be installed on-site with a post fixed plywood ceiling. However, a redesign allowed the incorporation of CLT roof panels with an overall thickness of 125mm. The nature of the CLT product eliminated the need for any post fixing of the visual grade timber appearance system, not to mention the fact that the entire roof could be installed in just two days.
Timber battens are another popular choice in Australian design, and can be a great way to spruce up an otherwise unattractive structure. However, the cost and ongoing maintenance of timber can be a deterrent, which is why timber alternatives are growing in popularity.
A good example of this can be seen in the recently-built Canberra Metro substations. The initial 12km line of Canberra’s light rail system links the northern town centre of Gungahlin to the city centre with 13 stops, and there are five substations along the way that convert electricity from the grid into power for the light rail vehicles.
It was important that the substations were located close to the track, but unfortunately they are not aesthetically pleasing structures. Therefore, the architects decided to create a 4.4-metre-high panelled screen to surround the sub-stations and create an eye-catching facade.
The big challenge was meeting the brief to find the right-sized sustainable materials that could withstand the ACT’s harsh climate and keep ongoing maintenance costs low. The architects ended up specifying timber alternative battens from Futurewood, which undertook a special process to cut battens from a rectangular piece of wood with virtually no waste. The end result was the aesthetically pleasing multi-directional timber effect that the architects were looking for, within the budget specified by the client.
Another good example of a timber alternative product is Innowood’s recyclable timber cladding solution. According to the company, the 100 percent recyclable product is resistant to termites, water and fire, and is an effective way to improve energy efficiency in a build.
The product was used in a stunning new build for Sydney’s Taronga Zoo – a five-star hotel located in the Taronga Wildlife Reserve. The architect’s vision was to connect people with the site’s nature and animals, blurring the boundaries between them. The brief requested strictly sustainable materials, including rainwater harvesting and recycled products such as Innowood’s timber alternative cladding, with the intent to educate visitors on the importance of environmental protection.
Insulation is the key to energy efficiency
It’s not glamorous, but insulation is a very important part of designing an energy-efficient structure. And if it can be made from safe, recyclable materials, that’s even better.
One interesting product is Durra Panel’s wall and ceiling board, which is made from wheat and rice straw, and requires no additional chemical adhesives, glues or resins in the manufacturing process. In addition, it requires no water or gas and produces no toxic waste. It can also be composted or recycled at the end of its lifespan, making it a highly sustainable solution.
The product is currently being used in the #GreenHouseByJoost project that is currently under construction at Melbourne’s Federation Square. Durra Panel is being used as the base layer of the roof system as well as the internal walls, flooring and ceiling of the building.
Designer Joost Bakker is a sustainable visionary whose design philosophy is always to start with the end of a design’s lifecycle in mind. That is, to give the building a purposeful life and only use construction materials that can be reused and/or repurposed to avoid future waste. Durra Panel fits this brief, in that once the project’s design life has been reached, the Durra Panels can be reused in other buildings or alternatively, can be mulched down and returned back into the soil that they came from as a conditioner to enhance the growth of more food – thus completing the cycle of sustainable design.
Speaking of insulation properties, ‘K Residence’ by The Colour Royale Design Group (TCR Design) is an example of how autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) can be used to provide fire protection while also creating a comfortable living environment. Sitting on the edge of bushland in the Dunsborough region of WA, the home is in a BAL-40 zone and required building products that would satisfy fire safety requirements without compromising style or functionality. Hebel was specified for its high fire rating at BAL-FZ, as well as for its thermal and energy efficiency.
“A key feature of the design was to achieve a solar passive house – there is no air conditioning so orientation is an important part of its design,” says Aaron King, founder and principal designer at TCR Design.
“The home is north-facing and the choice to use Hebel, combined with insulated glass, means we were able to keep the temperature in the house really consistent. Simply there is no need for air conditioning to cool or heat the place.”
The importance of interiors
Strictly interior products such as flooring and kitchen counters also have an important role to play in sustainable design. Architects and designers must consider not just the building’s impact on the environment, but also its impact on the people inhabiting it.
This was certainly the case with A.B. Patterson College, a state-of-the-art private school based in Arundel, Queensland. The school’s new Winton Centre spans over 4,500sqm across three levels, housing multi-functional spaces catering for early learning students and prep-year 12 students, as well as teachers and parents. The idea behind the structure was to create a space that would be beneficial to the physical and mental health of its occupants, and to demonstrate the importance of sustainable and responsibly sourced materials.
The architects specified Interface’s Net Effect carpet, which is designed to emulate the patterns of the ocean. Net Effect has also been created from a system that takes back discarded fishing nets, creating a ripple effect for cleaner oceans, less virgin materials used, and a new source of income for some of the world’s poorest coastal communities. Interface’s Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT) was also selected for its high-performing nature, offering dimensional stability and durability that resists scratching and scuffing in challenging environments. According to Interface, the building’s use of 100 percent carbon neutral floors meant that emissions equivalent to a car travelling 141,732km were saved from entering Earth’s atmosphere — almost three times the circumference of the earth.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that there is a sustainable and safe solution for kitchen benchtops and splashbacks – something that specifiers need to take note of. As we all know, the long-term health impacts of installing traditional kitchen benchtops can be severe, and if there is a safer solution then there is no reason to continue specifying dangerous products.
Betta Stone produces solutions for kitchen benchtops and splashbacks made with 100% recycled glass and binding agent. According to the company, the glass in its products is made from molten crystalline silica, limestone and soda ash. When the glass is crushed, the nature of any dust generated will be of an amorphous, not crystalline, structure and the concentration of the respirable fraction of this dust is miniscule. As such, there is no possibility of exposure to respirable crystalline silica and the possibility of exposure to dust from recycled crushed glass is very small.
According to Betta Stone, with use of its products, the average kitchen/pantry rescues 800 bottles from going to landfill – which is probably why these sustainable alternatives have been used in sustainability-conscious stores such as Woolworths and the T2 tea franchise.
Tasmanian Timber: architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/tasmanian-timber
Durra Panel: architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/durra-panel
James Hardie: architectureanddesign.com.au/suppliers/james-hardie-australia