Patrick Bellew’s name in the built environment carries a considerable amount of weight. A respected voice in environmental engineering, he has received no shortage of accolades during his time within the sector.

A UK native, Bellew’s affinity with Australia began with the design of Federation Square in 1997. His work at Atelier Ten and across the built environment has taken him to all corners of the globe, most recently doing a national speaking circuit throughout Australia discussing the need for absolute net zero to become the minimum requirement for new and existing buildings, as we aim to reach decarbonisation.

“I've had an amazing week of just incredible conversations and very enormous inquisitiveness and friendliness,” he tells Architecture & Design.

“I've not been down here for 10 years and I've been blown away by the warm reception.”

Speaking with Bellew, he is clear in his notion that architects, engineers and designers play a pivotal role in shaping the overall carbon footprint of their projects.

“From project briefing to conceptualising design, decisions shape the carbon footprint (of a building),” he says. 

“Designing a right-sized column grid for building materials can reduce embodied carbon by 20-40 percent, while building or minimising basement use can decrease embodied carbon by 20 percent. We can slash half of the embodied carbon of a building before it's even constructed. if we prioritise it from the outset.

“Considerations include spatial disposition, grid design, avoiding transfer structures, and minimising cantilevers. Decisions made through a carbon-focused lens can make a substantial difference to the end product. Being mindful throughout the design process is essential.

“Even specifying interior finishes, which contribute 4-5 percent of a building's carbon, offers opportunities. Decisions, like using recycled materials or avoiding raised floors, can contribute to significant carbon reduction.”

Concerns are often raised by developers and other stakeholders around cost, but Bellew believes if done correctly, these concerns are moot.

federation square atelier ten

“A low-carbon building can be as cost-effective as a regular one. Designers can propose alternative briefs for lower carbon buildings without compromising value or leasing potential.

“Overcoming the perception that sustainability is expensive is essential. Good design can be cost-effective, emphasising the value of sustainable schemes.

“There’s been conversations I’ve had on the speaking circuit likening the climate crisis to the hole in the ozone layer holding crisis in 1987. The entire world pivoted to eliminate CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) from their systems, despite thinking we couldn’t do it, but we did. We applied our smarts and a bit of money, and most importantly applied technology to it and fixed it. 

“And I think the recognition of the climate crisis and the need to drive out carbon by 2030 means we have to focus on value as opposed to cost.”

While some may argue that the climate crisis is on a similar scale and urgency to that of the hole in the ozone layer, governmental legislation is lagging. Bellew is of the belief that change can come about via built environment awareness.

“Government engagement and industry-led initiatives are crucial for effective change. 

“Raising awareness and design literacy about carbon is crucial. Educating clients, project managers, and colleagues is an important responsibility for architects and consultants.”

Bellew is steadfast in his belief: collaboration is key.

“One of the comments I've had from lots of people is that they've sort of had lightbulb moments and come to the realisation that sometimes the most obvious solution is the one we miss. The design community, we don't know what we don't know.

“We have to engage in conversations, foster a learning culture, and collaborate effectively to solve the current crisis.”

For more information on Bellew and Atelier Ten, click here.