Friday, 30 November 2012

Aussie High School Wins Global ‘Green’ Award

As reported by pro bono news and other design oriented websites, an Australian project has taken out one more global award for sustainability.  I find this one perhaps more significant than most, because almost by definition the greatest impact is likely to be made by an educational institution.

A primary school, especially one that is built through a process of rich community interaction, has more than usual chance of influencing the aspirations and lifestyles of people, far beyond the physical green credentials of the building itself.

Bentleigh Secondary College in Melbourne can claim not just education for sustainability, but sustainable education.  Or vice versa.  How many organisations, how many schools can actually claim to have a Head of Sustainable Practices?

As usual, the lightly editorialised press releases give far too little useful or testable information to the reader hoping to learn from the example.  This is a chronic problem of the architectural media, especially of the specialised trade news aggregators, and even with specialised sources such as econews.

I had been hopeful that in this case, it might be easier to drill down to substantive information, because of the school's systematic approach to integration of sustainability initiatives into its curriculum and public profile.  Indeed, googling the name of school does lead to some better quality information, such as on their water management in an article on the Victorian government sponsored Sustainability Hub.  But surprisingly, the school's own website links to a single newsy page, with hardly any more detail about its admirable programs and achievements in the area of sustainability.  For instance, I found it frustrating that given a clue to the live monitoring of energy use and water budgeting, the Web delivered data turned out to be accessible only behind the school's firewall.  Equally, it is truly hard work to extract even scant detail of the various technologies employed, much the less insight into their true performance.  The architects' website is worse, it contains literally no mention of anything to do with sustainability in relation to the project.

Once again, we are left with the impression that the mission of various awards in sustainability is primarily about giving an upbeat impression of progress, but that all participants, even probably worthy recipients of awards, are extremely guarded about delivered outcomes.  This need not be so.  It is very likely that Bentleigh Secondary College has nothing to hide and a lot to be proud of.  I wonder why it doesn't appear to have occurred to them that they could extend their educational mission to the architectural community at large? 

I live in hope.  In the meantime, congratulations to the school, and  to Suters Architects, who have contributed their services pro bono to this worthy project. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How sustainable is something really expensive?

The new high-tech sustainable Perth arena opens

That is the headline in the current issue of the online Architecture and Design news sheet.  Part of the way into the article, without comment, we find the following little snippet:

"Construction took four years more than originally thought and cost under $550 million which is three times over budget."

Sustainable?  No sarcasm intended when I say I'd like to know what framework is being used to evaluate the sustainability. 

Back during the Sydney Olympics, it was found that construction price was a surprisingly useful proxy for embodied impact of construction assemblies.  If it is even approximately useful, it seems to me the chances of recovering the embodied impacts in this project through savings in recurring energy use, waste minimization etc, are hopelessly unlikely before the building reaches the end of its useful life.

If there is no good answer to my question, an article like this is just greenwash, of the worst kind.