OCCASIONALLY, WORLDWIDE trends like our response to global warming reach into every industry and sector. But can our existing office stock be retro-fitted along ecologically sustainable development (ESD) lines, at a price that the market will accept?
One office building in Melbourne a narrow five-storey terrace built back in 1988 may have the answer. Two years ago, 40 Albert Road was an energy drain, both on natural resources and on the staff, who worked in a gloomy, uninspiring space.
Today this erstwhile underperformer is a world leader in sustainable building design: the first commercial refurbishment in Australia to achieve six-star world leadership status from the Green Building Council of Australia; the first building retrofit to make a five-star Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR) commitment rating; and the first office building in the country to be greenhouse-gas neutral.
It's no coincidence that the client, Szencorp, is a sustainable property and energy group. Owner Peter Szental purposefully set out to demonstrate some of the world's newest ESD technologies in a live office environment.
Pioneering initiatives, such as ceramic fuel cells, allow the company to supply 30% of its own electricity and all of its hot water, as part of a plan to be a net exporter of energy. Natural gas engine air conditioning units were also installed; like the fuel cells, the units are a first for an Australian commercial organisation and a way of relieving pressure on the state's electricity grid.
But the project team also wanted to demonstrate that ESD was commercially viable. Many of the decisions are replicable none more so than the first one, to retrofit the building rather than demolish and start again, says project architect Michael Bialek of SJB Architects.
"It meant we were saving the original concrete materials, as well as the energy that would have been needed to demolish the building and get rid of the waste," says Bialek.
A multi-disciplinary team of client, architects and engineers spent hours analysing products and systems that would reduce energy, water and resource use. Many of the products were off the shelf' rather than custom-made, says project engineer Peter Mathieson of Connell Wagner.