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The walls are alive

Demonstrating its dedication to sustainability with several innovations in its own office, Umow Lai are on a quest to become Australia's first 6-Star Green Star rated office interior

Bio-filtration was installed in five areas throughout Umow institution, interior design, office, gray
Bio-filtration was installed in five areas throughout Umow Lai's offices are just one of the methods the firm has used to create a sustainable and healthy work enviroment.

An office environment can seem like an artificial realm, filled with the whirring of computers, the blast of air conditioning systems and the flickering of fluorescent lights. However, the current movement towards sustainable building practices has people thinking differently, and it is engineering firms like Umow Lai that are leading the way in creating and implementing new technologies for a more natural environment.

It is these technologies that Umow Lai has put into practice in its own offices, with an eye towards being awarded Australia's first 6-Star Green Star rating for an office interior. Perhaps the most prominent of the firm's innovations is the use of bio-filtration walls. The first of their kind in Australia, they are created through a collection of plants and ferns growing vertically up walls in five areas of the office. Plants roots are placed in a layer of coconut matting, sandwiched between two layers of synthetic porous material. Within a growth medium structure, a dripper pipe circulates nutrient-rich water. The growth medium is fixed to perforated ducts that draw contaminated air past the root system and recirculate back it into the office, fresh and clean.

According to Shane Esmore, director of Umow Lai and principal of its sustainability division, the walls also help to achieve the company's aim to have the freshest working office environment in Australia.

"We know that indoor air quality is a health concern and that exposure to pollutants in the air is thought to be a major cause of headaches, lethargy, and eye and respiratory problems," he says. "Our solution to overcoming this was to devise a system that would clean the air by removing a large number of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds."


Desks are positioned to take advantage of maximum architecture, house, interior design, plant, black
Desks are positioned to take advantage of maximum natural light from the large windows. Balconies provide space for staff to socialise and work outdoors.

The firm investigated various design concepts and settled on the bio-filtration wall technology, which had been developed in Canada. Improvements to the model were made and the innovative system was licensed for use in Umow Lai's offices.

Aside from the bio-filtration walls, the office features operable windows, which allow natural ventilation in the summer months, thus reducing the need for air conditioning. The abundance of windows also provides the offices with plenty of natural light, a benefit that is magnified by the orientation of the site. Workstations are placed around the perimeter of the walls to maximise use of daylight, says Esmore.

"Meeting rooms open onto large balconies, which are furnished with outdoor tables and chairs for staff use. Bicycle facilities have also been installed to encourage green transportation options for staff."

Phase change material is used in one meeting room as a way of moderating the climate without the need for separate air conditioning. This technology responds to the conditions and eliminates temperature fluctuation by storing and releasing energy when required.

Desks are positioned to take advantage of maximum architecture, house, interior design, plant, black
Desks are positioned to take advantage of maximum natural light from the large windows. Balconies provide space for staff to socialise and work outdoors.

State-of-the-art lighting and ventilation heat exchange systems are also used to provide a very high level of energy efficiency.

"We are not trying to create a way-out' green design," says Esmore. "This is a functional, attractive corporate fit-out that is sustainable to its core."

Future plans for the office building include a substantial wind turbine on the roof, which will generate electricity to be put back into the building, increasing the energy efficiency of the fit-out.

For further information, contact Umow Lai Pty Ltd, Level 4, 10 Yarra Street, South Yarra, Vic 3141, phone (03) 9249 0288. Email: ulmelb@umowlai.com.au, or visit the company website: www.umowlai.com.au.

Story by: Trendsideas

13 Oct, 2008

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