As one of the founding directors of Six Degrees Architects, Legge for the past 27 years taken his firm into a nationally recognised design practice, one that continues to develop ideas around human needs, community, raw materiality and memory.

Legge is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Architects, sits on the Human Research and Ethics Committee for the Eye & Ear Hospital, is a foundational member of the Nightingale Housing Board, and is currently leading the second Nightingale Model project, in Fairfield and collaborating with Excelon Projects on their 7.5-star NatHERS rating project, Two Eleven Sydney Road Brunswick.

He talks with Architecture & Design about sustainability trends, house style and residential green power ideas.

1. Is there an evident shift towards purchasers wanting sustainable features in new builds?

Yes, I believe the public is becoming more aware that good sustainable initiatives provide demonstrable improvements to the amenity and liveability of apartments and bring with them significant savings in running costs. I suspect too that some of them are starting to understand that there is really no excuse for most apartments not to do well from a thermal performance point of view. If you think about it, most apartments will be surrounded by other apartments, above, below and on either side. If that’s not good insulation, I don’t know what is.

2.What are the common sustainable features/trends in new builds?

There is plenty of low hanging fruit that developers and architects should and are pursuing:

  • Cross ventilation, where you can manage it;
  • Engaged thermal mass, where you let the winter sun warm up exposed concrete or masonry surfaces;
  • Ceiling fans to provide increased comfort in the warmer months and even to help circulate the warmer stratified air in the winter. Most people would be surprised how much more comfortable a ceiling fan is to air conditioning in anything other than extreme temperatures;
  • External shading to prevent hot summer sun entering your home.
  • Double glazing and well-sealed windows and doors;
  • Good insulation to walls and roofs;
  • A kill switch at the front door to easily turn off all but essential power on the way out the door;
  • Good bike parking facilities to make it easy to use your bike for quick trips;
  • Energy and water efficient fitting and appliances;
  • All electric, rather than gas, appliances (coupled with green power) meaning that the building can be operationally fossil fuel free.
  • Car share memberships to decrease the number of cars needed by residents;
  • Organic waste collection services to minimise what goes to landfill;
  • Rainwater collection and reuse

All of the above will provide savings to the residents and few, if any, will have an impact on construction cost.

Then there are things like PV cells and embedded networks, that are harder to get over the line but that can provide significant operational savings to home owners. Also, planting of the roof top and circulation spaces of the building, help mitigate the heat island effect, improve amenity and cool the building, as well as potentially providing herbs for the occupants and spaces for community to develop.

  1. What would you like to see more of/what is the next step for Australian housing?

That people stop thinking of apartments as investments and start thinking of them as homes. That architects and developers think about who will be living in these homes and put themselves in their shoes. That architects and developers think more about how their building lands on the street and what it gives back to suburb and surrounding community at street level.

  1. Does sustainable come with a price tag?

Yes, if we don’t get on board it will cost us plenty. But from the point of view of capital costs on incorporating good sustainability, no very little for nearly everything mentioned above.

  1. Are there basic building practices that easily provide strong environmental value to a project? What do you recommend?

Look at the opportunities the site, the project and the client support. Can you get good sun penetration in winter (southern states)? Can you get cross ventilation somehow? Can you engage the thermal mass of the building to take out the peaks and troughs of ambient temperature change? Can you convince your client to spend a little on all the items mentioned above?

  1. Can sustainability ever be stylish?

Of course, it can, but really that’s irrelevant. Someone will put all of the above together and it will look great, and someone else will put it together and it will look rubbish. But in both cases, it will improve the amenity and liveability of the home, so why not do it…and, in any case, pick an architect to make sure it does look good!

  1. Why don’t we ever design multi-res with their own power generation (wind/solar etc). Is this something we could do?

We do this sometimes. PV cells and embedded networks are pretty straight forward to include. These will provide free electricity from whatever is generated.  All generated electricity can most likely be used across the building, rather than going back in to the grid at the pittance the power companies will pay for it, and the residents will be in a position to by bulk green power at a lower rate than they would buy retail black power. The problem is that there is little incentive for the developer to include them. They will cost the developer money to put in and will only make the savings for the residents who move in later. Where is the incentive here? Perhaps this something that legislation could encourage.