Gone are the ageing tropes of public buildings as sterile, uniform environments. Modern public buildings are hubs for innovative architecture, balancing form over function and always keeping their main priority in mind - to serve the public. 

Part of this shift was the realisation that a built environment has the power to affect the moods of the people who experience it. And by replacing fluoros with flowers – or native gardens, depending on the project – we can change the way people interact not only with the spaces themselves, but with the institutions they house. And while there are too many trends to count in this exciting architectural domain, we’ve extracted a few of the most interesting or prominent, below. 

The "20-minute neighbourhood" push

Stepping outside the building itself and taking a more holistic view, Australian urban planning increasingly emphasises creating neighbourhoods where essential services (schools, shops, etc.) are easily accessible on foot or by bike. This is an important sustainability initiative in that it reduces car reliance, and public buildings are becoming anchors within these walkable zones. Libraries might include community gardens, multi-purpose halls serve as both performance venues and markets, and designs prioritise pedestrian and bike access. This tackles transportation emissions while fostering a stronger sense of place.

Focus on material health, not just efficiency

The discussion around healthy buildings is expanding beyond indoor air quality to the materials themselves, and the push to avoid 'red list' chemicals with negative health impacts is becoming standard. Specifying locally-sourced materials reduces transport emissions, but also offers greater supply chain transparency and control over the chemicals used in their manufacture. Several Australian-led initiatives focus on material health certification, aligning with the increasing use of materials passports that track a component's entire lifecycle.

Bringing the outside in

Openable windows in a library? Well, why not? Across all our public architecture there’s a strong push towards integrating the outside world, and creating more flowing, seamless design in the process. This can be as simple as having outdoor sections connected with sliding doors, or as tech-forward as automated lighting that reacts to the level of external light in the building. By putting biophilic features front and centre, architects and designers are drawing on the innumerable health and wellbeing benefits of nature, and building that association with our public services. 

Green roofs

The sustainability benefits of green roofs are well-known throughout the architecture and design industries. Better energy efficiency, easier stormwater management, extended roof lifespan, acoustic benefits - and that’s before we get to the impact on people. But this trend is specifically being applied in the public sphere because of the important role public buildings have as a model for sustainable practices in the community. Installing a green roof showcases the commitment to environmental responsibility, and with climate change becoming an issue at all levels of government, we’ll continue to see these urban oases on our public buildings for many years to come. 

So it's fair to say that public buildings are metamorphosing, and experiencing a sort of sustainable renaissance. From sterile, functional boxes are emerging vibrant and innovative architectural systems that prioritise people first and foremost. And whether it’s taking a holistic view of urban planning and how our public buildings exist within our cities, or the more building-specific aspects like greening and sustainable material use, it’s fair to say that public buildings are setting a new standard. As these trends continue to evolve, our public spaces promise to become not just places we visit, but vibrant destinations that enrich our lives and communities.

The 2024 Sustainability Awards jury is looking for innovative and functional designs that prioritise sustainability and community, while also delivering an outstanding visual appeal. 

Don't miss out on the opportunity to showcase your project and contribute to a better future. Click here for more information.

Image: Pimpama Sports Hub by Liquid Blu.