Public buildings are a particularly interesting sub-sector of architecture for the mere fact that there are few sectors in which the heritage of the buildings in question regularly spans the full 200+ year colonial history of our country.

On one hand, buildings like NSW Parliament house have been standing since the mid-1800s, and heritage laws now prohibit the structural alteration of these historic sites. On the other, modern government buildings, libraries, and more, are being designed with new and innovative design principles in mind.

With such a broad palette to work with, the architects engaged to design or upgrade these buildings need to have a deep understanding of the specifics of each project, and a keen desire to innovate at every turn. And this is no different when it comes to implementing or improving the sustainability profiles of public buildings.

As with many governmental pursuits, targets and KPIs abound in the sustainability space, and a great many of them have to do with improving the energy efficiency of public buildings. So with that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the key trends we’re seeing shape the push towards sustainability in this sector.

NABERS Targets

OK, this is not really a ‘trend’, per se - but its importance to the future of sustainability in public buildings can’t be understated. All government buildings funded by the public are now subject to NABERS efficiency targets under the Energy Efficiency in Government Operations policy. As it stands, the minimum requirements are for a 4.5 star NABERS rating across the whole building.

Going Solar

Governments are practising what they preach when it comes to solar power, and are taking action to install solar on public buildings across the country. Programs like the Victorian Government’s ‘Solar on Public Buildings’ program are installing solar PV systems that will reduce the energy requirements and costs of running these buildings.

HVAC upgrades

While government infrastructure is generally not known for being state-of-the-art, public buildings are having their HVAC systems upgraded to be more efficient and less cumbersome. Advances in electrically powered HVAC systems, such as heat pumps, can result in significant energy savings and emission reductions.

Smart Water Management

As older fixtures are being replaced, new, energy efficient fixtures are taking their place and creating much greater efficiencies in the use of water in public buildings. Everything from reduced-flow faucets

and showers, to contactless flushing systems are having an impact. And in the future, we expect to see more of these systems connected to data collection services that will enable their continual optimisation in line with people’s changing behaviour, and building requirements.

These are just a few of the trends we’re seeing emerging in the creation of sustainable public buildings, and as the cycle of renewal continues throughout, we’ll see these - and others - become more embedded into the design process. We’re looking forward to seeing what other energy efficiencies become commonplace in public buildings of the future!

The Public Building category at the 2023 Sustainability Awards is sure to crown a winner that features a number of these trends. To submit your entry, click here.