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    Five ‘Best of the Best’ Sustainability Awards winners from recent years

    Geraldine Chua

    The Sustainability Awards have a long history of recognising the best green projects and innovations to come out of Australia.

    First launched over a decade ago by Architecture & Design’s sister publication, Building Products News (BPN) magazine (now BPN-Infolink), the event has grown in significance each year, both in terms of the quality of submissions and finalists, and the scale of the program.

    This year, a total of 14 awards will be presented, including a Best of the Best (Product or Project) winner – a category that has consistently showcased the pinnacle of sustainable building practice in the country.

    We look back at five recent Best of the Best winners, and the reasons they clinched the top gong.

    2012: New Royal Children’s Hospital by Billard Leece Partnership and Bates Smart

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    The 2012 Sustainability Awards judges praised the architects for their holistic and thoughtful approach to addressing a large and complex healthcare design project in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

    Using evidence-based design principles, the project team based their strategy on the therapeutic benefits of nature. The design was inspired by the natural textures, forms, patination and colours of Royal Park, the large nature reserve that surrounds the site.

    “Our priorities were the creation of positive workplace settings for the clinicians, educators and researchers working at the hospital and of course, the family-friendly, child-focused, low-stress settings for those in need of care,” says design director, Kristen Whittle.

    For example, the inpatient building is designed in a star shape. As a result, more than 80 percent of the rooms have park views. The remainder look into courtyards. Custom-designed glass sunshades on the hospital's exterior allow activity in the grounds below to be viewed from patients’ beds.

    Bedroom spaces, 85 percent of which are single occupancies, were designed to be calm and comforting – fitting for a place of recovery and respite. Medical procedures are conducted away from the bedroom whenever possible, so that the rest of patients remains largely undisturbed.

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    “The sustainable design solution goes beyond the normal built fabric to address social sustainability considerations. It is to be applauded [for] the way it integrates nature [and] nurture throughout the entire program of design to improve health outcomes. The result is all about wellbeing, rather than ‘ill-being’; [it creates] a curing environment which embraces the psychology of healing a child,” the 2012 awards judges commented.

    “The implications of the design success at the New Royal Children's Hospital are major, because, if this level of sustainability can be achieved in such a large and complex healthcare design project, then the rest that follow will have no excuse for failure.”

    2013: Suspended geopolymer concrete floor panels by Bligh Tanner, Wagners and Hassell

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    Despite strong competition from other finalists, it came as no surprise when the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute (GCI) was awarded Best of the Best at the 2013 Sustainability Awards – particularly given that the use of cement-free concrete for suspended construction was a world-first application.

    Piloted by the team in its bid to achieve a 5 Star Green Star Education Design and As-Built ratings for the Institute, the suspended geopolymer concrete floor panels are made from Earth Friendly Concrete (EFC). (EFC is Wagners’ brand name for their commercial form of geopolymer concrete.)

    The geopolymer precast concrete contains sand, aggregate and a binder that is made from the chemical activation of two commonly recycled materials: ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), a waste product from steel production, and fly ash, a waste product from coal-fired power generation.

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    “Standing head and shoulders above a crowd of very good entrants, it provides a long sought-after alternative to the highly embodied energy always associated with concrete,” the 2013 jury commended.

    “This type of material innovation resolves base-level problems before it even enters the building stage. Undeniably, the suspended geopolymer concrete floor panels will have massive applications across all sectors of the industry, with a great future in that direction.”

    2014: The Commons by Breathe Architecture

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    Australia’s best green building in 2014 was the now well-known The Commons apartment, which took the top honours out of a pool of eight category winners. 

    “From a very strong field, The Commons by Breathe Architecture has been selected as ‘the best of the best’ because it embodies many important approaches that showcase how sustainability is an essential part of a positive future,” the 2014 jury panel said.

    Specific initiatives listed by the panel included:

    • Taking a difficult and damaged site and making it better through an appropriately sized and designed development
    • Using a minimal approach to design as inspiration for great architecture
    • Allowing the natural characteristics of the carefully selected materials to be expressed
    • Creating affordable housing that provides both communal and separate spaces for occupants, with opportunities to live lighter and better

    “Importantly, the creation and realisation of this project by the architects and their team shows we can all dream what the future should be, and then make it happen.”

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    Designed as a triple bottom-line development – one that is environmentally sustainable, financially viable and socially responsible – the project offered a replicable prototype for the modern sustainable multi-residential apartment building.

    Today, The Commons is a successful benchmark for the Nightingale housing developments.

    2015: Walumba Elders Centre by Iredale Pedersen Hook

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    2015 saw the Walumba Elders Centre in Warmun, WA, take out the program’s highest honour. The project was conceived after a devastating flood displaced 300 people in the community, the traditional home to the Giga people. Walumba Elders Centre was commended for its multi-faceted approach to sustainable design, which moved beyond the common considerations of energy performance and third-party certifications.

    The building was designed in collaboration with the community Elders and Community Care staff, and is located close to the school and town centre. This ensured its occupants, the Elders, were able to continue in their role as educators and cultural leaders.

    "Here is a building which does all of the important things really well and is the epitome of sustainability," the 2015 Sustainability Awards jury noted.  “Not only does it sit comfortably in its environment with a very appropriate climatic design response, it is clearly responsive to the often complex cultural requirements of its users.

    "An innate understanding of both people and place by the designers resulted in a building that reacted to, rather than imposed upon, its landscape and culture. The elevated floors are more than just flood-proof. They provide areas of deep cool at ground level in the hot months where people of all ages can gather, sit and 'do community'. And when it rains, the water is celebrated and featured rather than considered a problem and just piped away.

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    "Furthermore, [the fact] that this project was delivered on a very tight budget to a remote location is testament to the designer’s understanding of the triple bottom line of sustainability, for which they must be commended.

    "Though there were many candidates for the overall award, the Walumba Elders Centre stole the show, as it demonstrates the skills and understanding required to design truly sustainable buildings. Where some buildings achieved great energy performance or high results through certification programs, this project illustrated sensitivity to people and culture, a respect for environment and building response and delivered it with ingenuity rather than a large budget.

    "If this is ‘Aged Care’, you would be happy to grow old in a home like this.”

    2016: 88 Angel Street by Steele Associates Architects

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    The third multi-residential project in as many years to take out the Best of the Best category at the Sustainability Awards, 88 Angel Street was recognised for being as significant – if not more significant – than its two predecessors.

    “Never before has sustainable housing been more important to our cities as it is today,” the jury commented.

    “We’re urbanising on an unprecedented scale and we need comfortable, playful, socially enriching and environmentally friendly housing options if we want to accommodate our population in a humane and sustainable manner.

    “88 Angel Street, in all of its meticulous commitment to best-practice sustainable building and material procurement, is certainly one of those options. [We] hope this award will encourage many more inner-city developments just like it." 

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    The green roofs cloaking the three-terrace development are just the tip of the project’s sustainability initiatives. From the 3 Star Envirocrete used for the concrete slabs and wall fill, to the use of the ancient Japanese technique of Shou Sugi Ban to treat the timber slat façade, each aspect of the project – from conception to completion – was researched, modeled, tested and finally selected to create a highly efficient and liveable home. Materials were also soured to ensure minimum environmental impact.

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