EDG News May 2014
  EDG - environmentaldesignguide.com.au  

From the Editor


In the news

Design tools, simulations & related news

Advocacy, publications & reports

Events & training



EDG News is published by the Australian Institute of Architects
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More like a marathon, less like a sprint

Someone recently asked me, 'Why should emerging architects know about EDG?' While it took me a bit off guard, it was a good opportunity to reflect. I think to survive and thrive in architecture and its related design professions, it is helpful for design practitioners to be driven, and driven in a number of ways. An architecture professor once told me, 'Unlike some other professions, it takes a long time to fully mature as an architect.' The nature of the discipline means that we need to know 'a bit of everything' and that takes time to accumulate. For all of us and especially emerging design professionals, this means: 
  • continually learning, especially with regards to design and critical thinking skills 
  • learning how to ask the 'right' (productive) questions 
  • self-directed professional development, likely without formal support
This is further complicated when coupled with environmental responsibility in design. Designers have the tough task of figuring out how to meet the needs of their clients and users within a changing and potentially hostile environmental context. Built environment professionals aiming to contribute to functional, regenerative and healthy places and practices need all the help they can get. Resources like the Environment Design Guide can help provide reference material for continual professional learning on built environment related issues.

EDG was created to help address the gap between built environment design research and practice. While much has already been done, there is still much to do in order to make a positive environmental impact. In light of this ongoing effort, EDG will be seeking people for an editorial advisory panel in the upcoming months. Those interested should e-mail edg_at_architecture.com.au. 

Finally, this edition of EDG News accompanies a new EDG Note: 'Passivhaus in Australia' by Clare Parry. The paper introduces the Passivhaus Standard to an Australian audience. Those with an interest in building sealing might find it especially engaging.

Noy Hildebrand


Moscow smog. Photo: Marina Perevezentseva (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


When was the last time you stepped out from a stuffy room and cherished the first breaths of fresh air? How did you feel? Because air is usually invisible, it's easy to take it for granted. That is, until the air contains pollutants that can interfere with our ability to breathe and our health. So while it's often forgotten, air and its various qualities – like humidity, temperature, scents etc. – can have a profound impact on one's awareness of the body, surroundings and sense of place and well-being. 

Air quality and health
Quantifying the benefits of designing for healthy air quality probably should include accounting for how much the healthcare system spends on lung and respiratory diseases. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) found strong links between indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases (like stroke and coronary heart disease) as well as air pollution and cancer. WHO reported that in 2012 alone around one in eight total (or seven million) premature deaths were as a result of indoor and outdoor air pollution exposure

Over 60% of those deaths were attributable to indoor pollution, and around 53% to ambient air pollution. WHO is in the process of developing new indoor air quality guidelines for household fuel combustion, which will cover the impacts of household cooking, heating, lighting and other home energy needs. The report, data and database may be found here.

From energy production at the household level, let us zoom out to energy at the regional level. Is it okay that air pollution exposure is a result of our energy generation? How acceptable is it to trade quality of health for electricity? Would you trade health for money?

Smoke, fire and coal
In February this year, high winds fanned a grass fire in the direction of Hazelwood Power Station in Victoria and its open-cut mine. The fire burned for 45 days. During that time, nearby downtown Morewell was at times 'like Mordor' and ash 'rained' from the sky. Many people evacuated; those who stayed hid in their houses. Eighteen firefighters were taken in for CO exposure. Besides very poor outdoor air quality during that period, it appears that the indoor environment quality of the buildings in the area was also compromised well beyond the fires; some described a layer of ash clinging to the interior surfaces of many buildings and considerable difficulty with staying indoors. 

Regardless of how the fire started, it is apparent that the open-cut mine at Hazelwood Power Station was an accident waiting to happen. (Even though parts were unused for a decade, the old mine site had not been capped, re-vegetated or installed with sprinklers.) It seems that even before the coal mine fire, the ambient air pollution in the Latrobe Valley was on the high side by Australian standards; the WHO air quality data indicated that the Australian locations with the highest levels of particulate pollution were Traralgon in the Latrobe Valley, Geelong and Melbourne. 

Air quality, public health and climate change
In addition to significantly contributing to environmental degradation and climate change, the demonstrated high risk potential of such coal related infrastructure to human health provides another compelling reason for us to move away from coal as a source of primary energy. Those truly serious about public health and environmental performance take this a step further. Beyond Zero Emissions recommends phasing out gas as a fuel source in buildings. Similarly, the Living Building Challenge advocacy platform and certification tool does not allow combustion of any kind in developments seeking certification. 

Despite the arguably diminishing potential profits, fossil fuels compromise public health. In terms of the etymology of the word 'wealth' – to possess well-being – where does this leave us? 

Designing spaces with air in mind
Designers of the built environment have been known to have a fascination with air and airflow. How can airflow and air quality be addressed in designing for the built environment? The degree of focus on air quality depends on the building, space, program, user and task types. Tasks requiring high levels of mental concentration need good air quality more so than others. Those more vulnerable (i.e. children and the elderly) are especially sensitive. One building/space typology where indoor air quality (IAQ) has been prominent is in schools and classrooms, so the literature around this topic is a good entry point for those wanting to learn more.  

An article from Environmental Building News discusses research on Californian classrooms, where over half of the 162 classrooms studied over two years did not meet state-mandated ventilation standards requiring 7.5 litres per second per person. It was found that inadequate ventilation correlates with student sick days. In the Central Valley [of California] where temperature extremes in summer and winter are typical, all classrooms were sealed and air-conditioned. Ventilation rates were kept mostly low to save on heating and cooling costs, resulting in ventilation rates below the state standard 95% of the time. The research suggests a complex relationship between poor ventilation and illness. There was a correlation found between ventilation rates and sick days across school districts, climate zones and ventilation types. 

Related links 


New Monte Rosa Hut. Photo courtesy of Holcim Foundation.
Early summer morning in Wheatley. Photo: net_efekt (CC BY 2.0)

NEW EDG NOTE: Passivhaus in Australia by Clare Parry

The Passivhaus Standard is a rigorous, voluntary and performance-based standard for energy efficiency in a building. Originally from central Europe, the standard is finding traction in the Australian market. Proponents cite an enhanced drive for excellence in energy efficiency, indoor comfort and occupant health and well-being. With rising fuel costs, there is also a strong economic case for increasing efficiency in buildings. While Passivhaus is currently expanding across the residential market, Australia will soon also see projects realised in the education, commercial and aged-care sectors, with many others to follow.

Heads up next sprummer

It was only a few months ago, but remember our angry summer? Recall the scorching conditions that developed despite it not being an El Niño year? Remember that the 2013-14 bushfire season started unusually early in October? Hopefully you've developed good coping mechanisms since then, because it seems that an El Niño pattern may be forming in the Pacific Ocean, based on these NASA satellite images suggesting warmer waters. The 1997-98 El Niño created warmer and drier conditions in much of Asia. Effects of El Niño resulted in drier conditions in parts of Southeast Asia and Australia, including Queensland, inland Victoria, inland New South Wales and eastern Tasmania. Yale Environment360 explains further.

GC 2014 recap

Apparently a mining town in Australia's northwest is seeking to increase their geriatric population (despite its very warm weather). This is one of a number of nuggets of information from Green Cities 2014. As a joint event between the Property Council and the GBCA, the event not surprisingly had a few 'large players' in the room. And of course, at least a few – like those that develop mines and mining communities – were those one might not normally expect to see or engage with at an event about sustainability in the built environment. Since Australia includes a wide array of places and development types, it is important to include these parties in conversations on sustainability. Overall, the event had a good representation of Australian and international examples of 'beyond the baseline'. Some of the clips that stood out to me included:
  • 2013 Solar Decathalon-winning Illawara Flame House by Team UOW (a joint effort by University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra Institute), the first Solar Decathalon winner in the retrofit category
  • University of Wollongong's Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), Australia's first Living Building Challenge registered building
  • Chris Buntine's look at composting food waste at a hospital scale 
  • Kristin-Ann Karlsson's presentation on an urban renewal development that directly acknowledges and addresses gentrification; those interested in low income housing finance models should find out more 
  • Kent Larson's abundance of research, including that done on micro apartments, transformer-like furniture and the potential that compactness can have on an urban scale 
Highlights also included the conversations among the very interesting collection of people present. 


Screenshot of 'Passive Heaing & Cooling' component of Autodesk Sustainability Workshop.
Screenshot of Simergy website. 


Ever wanted to learn more about Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)? If you're interested in using LCA in your design decision making process, eTool might be your cup of tea. Its open use LCA software allows anyone designing, consulting or constructing buildings to test how their design stacks up. The neat thing about LCA is that it is more appropriate for types of buildings (i.e. existing buildings) and materials (i.e. mud brick) that don’t fit well into a mainstream rating tool. Learn more here and here

Autodesk Sustainability Workshop

The education arm of this software company is doing some interesting things. In particular, this site provides useful fundamentals on various aspects of sustainable design, from the climate and site analysis to daylight to passive and active conditioning. It has really packed a lot in, so it's probably worth a few visits.

Simergy v1.1

For the uninitiated, 'Simergy is a comprehensive graphical user interface (GUI) for EnergyPlus'. It's worth noting that the audience for version 1 is 'mechanical engineers, energy modellers, energy analysts, technical architects and technical consultants which means it has a degree of complexity and a learning curve to it.' That said, there is plenty of documentation (i.e. video tutorials, a support forum etc) for those keen to learn and get into the nitty gritty.


Parlour Guides poster, designed by Studio Catherine Griffiths.
Strava Labs Global Heatmap. 

IPCC Mitigation of Climate Change

The Working Group III portion of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) covers the options for mitigating climate change and their underlying technological, economic and institutional requirements. AR5 contains contributions from three Working Groups: Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group II, the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and; Working Group III, options for the mitigation of climate change. The Synthesis Report draws on the assessments made by all three Working Groups. The Climate Council summarised the WG II portion of the report here

Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice

From the Parlour website: 'the Parlour Guides to Equitable Practice have been developed to help Australian architecture move towards a more equitable profession; one that offers opportunity for all and is better positioned to meet contemporary challenges.' 

They are brilliantly presented and written; I'd encourage anyone who hasn't had a look to do so. 

Urban design and transport 

Believe it or not, a growing population, urban sprawl and their associated issues are not unique to Australia. The Rockefeller Foundation (US) has supported a series called The Future of Transportation. While it's mostly US-focused, much can be learned from America's diverse experiences and how they addressed - successfully or not - many of the problems we now face. The first collection follows the theme 'The Perfect Commute'. Unsurprisingly, research cites bicycle infrastructure as key to reducing accidents. There's even this urban-scale network of elevated bicycle paths proposed for London. Finally, this global heatmap shows where people tend to bike and run.

ABCB seeks comments on disaster resilience and building code

Are new buildings resilient enough to natural disasters associated with extreme weather events? Is the building code sufficient to maintain 'adequate levels' of community health and safety during such events? If such questions pique your interest, keep reading. The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) is seeking feedback on the resilience of new buildings to extreme weather events. Hazards included: cyclones and extreme winds, intense rain, bushfire, snow and flood, 'as appropriate to their location'. Hazards excluded: hail, storm tide, or 'specific requirements relating to heat stress'. Send submissions in the form of a completed Response Sheet to resilience@abcb.gov.au by 1 July 2014. More here.

Designing communities, shaping health 

The American Institute of Architects produced this website as a way of communicating the impacts of design decisions:

as 'an architect, your everyday decisions, large and small, can affect the mental and physical health of everyone that comes into contact with your work.

Explore some of these design choices and health consequences.' For those who prefer, a printer-friendly link is also available. 


The leaking door by Ken Fager (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Climate and Design: A Cool Future for Hot Melbourne

When: Mon 26 May, 6-7.30pm
Where: Melbourne
Details here.

This is the third of five seminars. Video footage of the previous seminars are viewable here.

Green Building Day 2014

When / Where  (varies)
27 May / Sydney
30 May / Melbourne

Various experts will forecast the innovations and trends that will directly impact the people and businesses in the green building industry in the year ahead. Click on a city name above for details and registration.

Ross Taylor: Preventing leaks - by design

When / Where (varies) 
11 Jun / Melbourne 
9 Jul  / Canberra 
6 Aug  / Brisbane 
10 Sep / Perth 

Also available online at the above times.
Register here.
Refurbishment of 1950s water tower as student housing, Jaegersborg, Denmark. Photo: seier+seier (CC BY 2.0).
Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park, Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo: Jocelyn Kinghorn (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The uneven surface of this leaf creates air pockets that allow water, along with dirt, to roll right off. Photo: Kevin Krejci (CC BY 2.0).

Chris Barnett: prefabrication

When: 12 Jun
Where: Melbourne
Details and register here

Melbourne Forum: Building a healthy urban habitat

When: 18 Jun 5:30p
Where: Melbourne
Details and register here

Jane Toner: biomimicry and sustainability

When: 17 Jul
Where: Melbourne
Details and register here

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