By Dominique Hes

    The places that we live, work and play are inextricably linked with our health and well-being. Regenerative Development aims to increase the viability, vitality and ability of a place to thrive. 

    It does this by working on the health of the environment and the health of the people. Health is both physically and socially grounded in a sense of attachment, belonging and connection to place. That is, if you care for a place you will look after it. The key question in a regenerative development project is – how do we create the capacity to care about this place?

    One aspect of creating that sense of care for place – neighbourhood, suburb, city country – is feeling a part of its history. That is why honouring existing buildings of a place is so critical, they hold the hopes, dreams, memories and stories of the past, and make each place unique. 

    The Living Futures Institute of Australia (LFIA) is a not-for-profit organisation some colleagues and I started in 2012 to bring in the Living Building Challenge certification to Australia. 

    LFIA challenges the industry to design buildings that are beautiful, that use only the resources of the site (sun, wind and water) and that help create places that nourish the local community and the ecosystems around them. The aim, as its current CEO Laura Hamilton-O’Hara puts it is to ‘maximise the positive. Usually, the focus for the industry is on doing less bad, but actually it’s about doing better, for both society and the planet.’

    While this living building approach has been used mostly for new buildings, this project applies this thinking to an existing historic one. This year the LFIA challenge will centre around a heritage-listed building located in Sunshine North.

    The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) is a brutalist building built in the 1970’s and Development Victoria sees it as becoming the new heart of a community being created for Sunshine North. 

    To really unpack the regenerative potential of this competition, let’s revisit the first LFIA competition in 2016 for Frasers Property Australia’s Burwood Brickworks Shopping Centre. 

    Stephen Choi, who drove this competition spoke to me of its benefits. ‘One of the significant impacts was the coming together of a large number of practitioners in the built environment industry to learn about culturally rich, socially just, and ecologically restorative development,’ he says.

    The competition builds capacity not just in the industry, but also among students. Bhargav Sridhar, one of the project leaders, says ‘It was a liberating experience that emphasized the limitless potential of projects to positively impact the environment… By the end, it felt like a no-brainer and continues to shape my approach to architecture, inspiring me to search for hidden stories in every site which help bring us closer to what nourishes us.’ 

    Going from the social to the ecological and resilience capacity; the development has a roof farm with food crops and animals (chickens and bees) and it meets all of its own energy needs with solar panels. In construction, 99% of waste was saved from landfill and they used low impact or recycled materials halving the building’s embodied carbon. Materials also included historic bricks from the site helping to tell its story.

    The legacy of the Burwood Brickworks project also extended to all the retailers, who had to step up and improve their practices. For example, a Woolworths media release in 2019 said, ’From store lighting and air-conditioning to food refrigeration and preparation, we have looked at all angles to see how we can build and run this store more sustainably.’

    Lastly, the project aimed to connect to Country through the collaboration and work with Balarinji Studio who were engaged to create public art installations for the project. ‘Balarinji worked with local Wurundjeri, Dja Dja wurrung and Ngurai illum wurrung artist Mandy Nicholson, who developed an artwork concept that was deeply embedded to Place and reflected Wurundjeri culture.’ 

    This is the potential of the Sunshine North project, to bring Country in, to bring nature in, to bring resilience and local food in, to bring community in and to bring best practice design in. This competition will hopefully combine all of this potential to breathe life into, not just this building, but also the emerging community. As Hamilton-O’Hara says ‘The Living Building Challenge is the Everest of green building rating tools. We can’t wait to see the entries for this year’s Challenge.’ 

    Further information:

    Image Credit John Jovic – 161016
    Dr Dominique Hes is the Zero Building Carbon Lead at the City of Melbourne. Dominique mixes theory and thinking, with doing and testing to discover how we can best contribute to the well-being and thriving of place, people and planet.

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