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Greening our Buildings, Literally

Greening our Buildings, Literally

This post discusses green spaces in urban areas and proposes, any natural land we displace with a development, be exactly replaced or re-dispersed on the same development. This is simple and clear and doable and not a ‘more points’ in a ratings scheme.

What right have we?

Man creates massive urban areas. Soft areas become hard areas and species are pushed out of the way, or worse. Green areas (vegetation, soil, eco systems etc.) are replaced with a built environment.

A tad arrogant. Hey, but we are humans.

There are many natural cycles that occur that we are aware of, and I’m sure many, many, more we are not. Urbanisation can dramatically modify these natural cycles. The global attack on these natural cycles is not yet fully understood.

The water cycle below is certainly one such natural cycle affected by urbanisation.

Water Cycle

Other natural cycles include the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle.

What can be done?

In truth, with our population growth, not a lot in the long game. However ‘going vertical’ will reduce our impact on land surface area and allow us more easily to replace that surface area on and within our new buildings.

As a starting point we could consider the following ideas.

Replace displaced

Any site prior to being urbanised must be accounted for, square meter by square meter, including oxygen producing trees, grass and so on. This natural green environment must be replaced as part of the development. A new role for our surveyors and quantity surveyors!

In practical terms this is achieved by green roofs (with deep soil), perimeter gardens on multiple levels, internal sun lit green courtyards, green walls and so on.

Green Roofs

Re Connect

Prior to a new development water and wildlife were provided with full access to the landscape. A new development is a ‘brick wall’, breaking and separating habitats and eco systems. Green corridors through our sites should be provided, allowing connection of green spaces.

In cities, we provide pavements for human connections. With some simple thinking even our cities can link our parks with green corridors (could even share with humans with a path), allowing animal and insect connection.

In Sydney we are building a new connection between the city and the Barangaroo area of the city. Great for humans, but so short sighted for our wildlife. The incorporation of green, deep verges within this connection, together with skylights for underground areas would have provided a natural connection corridor.

Bike lanes, tram ways, think green ways.

Green way

Green Corridor 2

Pay Back ($)

Ahh some of you are heading straight to the dollars. What will this cost? We can’t afford it. Well that’s one way of looking at it. Another way is back to the top of the page…what right have we. If we take away the natural environment, we need to pay for it or as I’m advocating re-disperse it in exactly the same quantity.

With a few more seconds of thought you can consider the big picture cost (not just the quick up front cost). You can now place a value on the greening of your buildings. There are schemes available to calculate the financial benefit to the community of your green building. Given these buildings will be around for decades, this is a lot of money added to the community. If I were a councillor reviewing a development this would be near the top of my list on an approval review.


Firstly its simply the right thing to do, but there are countless other benefits, including:

  • Un-sterilizes our world
  • Wild Life Increase
  • More Bees
  • Lowers city temperatures
  • Reduces dramatically earth sun-light reflection
  • Slows water run off
  • More oxygen
  • Less CO2
  • More areas to relax
  • Reduces air conditioning costs
  • Reduces glare
  • Provides areas for crops/fruit trees etc
  • Aesthetic and psychological benefits (less doctor visits)
  • Improved human health (less doctor visits)
  • Green walking/running tracks
  • Car free zones
  • storm water  runoff  reduction
  • carbon sequestration and  storage
  • Provision of shade
  • Human interaction zones
  • Increases property values
  • Air quality improvement
  • Species diversity
  • Increased tourism

Development Impact

Greening of our developments, literally, will require, for some, a reset on our present concept of building form and function.

It is likely building will need to be taller. This is simply inevitable anyway, given our human population growth. Reducing building heights to old DCP’s is just daft and planning departments are just slowing the inevitable. What should be happening is allowing building height increase and ensuring light to green spaces and green corridors. On the assumption global warming is real, we are going to want a lot more shaded spaces to move between in the future.

Additional height will be required to accommodate (structurally) mid level(s) of deep soil areas and deep soil roof gardens. Loss of lettable /saleable areas, to green areas, will need replacement areas to keep developments profitable, thus upward pressure (more levels).

Building shapes will change to accommodate mid level green areas allowing sunlight.

On smaller projects traditional roofs will change from a cheaper pitch construction to concrete roofs to allow for deep soil gardens.

Building Usage will change. Commercial ‘parties’ will move to commercialising these green areas. Roof top gardens will become garden centres, sporting facilities, with gym facilities below, wedding venues and so on.


As ever, words, words and words. To get this happening prior to any global catastrophic events will require legislation. Get it into the BCA (Building Code of Australia). It’s also down to our planners to organise an Australia wide set of planning rules to drive the greening of our buildings.

Author: Jorgen Knox

Original Date: 26/08/2014

Contact: e:, t: 02 800 33 100, w: KAE



Green Star Is Dead, Long Live Carbon Neutral

Green Is Dead, Long Live Carbon Neutral

This post discusses if Green Star is holding us back.

What is Green Star?

Green Star is a comprehensive, national, voluntary environmental rating system that evaluates the environmental design and construction of buildings and communities.

The Green Star rating tools assess building or community projects against a number of categories. These categories allow for a determination to made on the environmental impact of a project’s site selection, design, construction,  maintenance etc. The nine categories included within the various Green Star – Design and Green Star – As Built rating tools are:

  • Management
  • Indoor Environment Quality
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Land Use & Ecology
  • Emissions
  • Innovation


So completing Green Star, will get us a number of points. More points mean a better star rating.

Green Star has been fantastic for our industry and is to be commended. But it’s now reached a point where it’s just another tick box in the delivery of a new building. This however is not my concern.

Is Green Star Holding Us Back?

My concern, in the context of real global warming issues, is that Green Star is providing a false sense of security to our industry. I’m saving the planet, ‘My Buildings got 5 stars’.

Green Star has got us started and got the industry up to speed with understanding environmental issues. If we stick with Green Star, we are doomed.

As a minor point, there a few initiatives in Green Star, in a warming planet, that are counter intuitive and will need to be changed.

In Green Stars defence they are onto this subject. See link:

Carbon Neutral

Cutting to the chase, we should be building carbon neutral buildings. Full stop. It’s doable and is being done.

Often, a slight of hand occurs, in that a building may not be 100% carbon neutral on day one, but has a calculated carbon payback period.

How’s it done?

Every item of the build (including site works during construction) has its carbon content calculated. The total carbon is then off set with the use of recycled materials etc.

Finally the energy used to run the building is sourced from low carbon sources. This low carbon fuel as compared to gas or coal fired electricity provides a carbon credit, which is used to pay off the carbon debt of the building.


Low Carbon Fuels

Low carbon fuels are readily available and include:

  • Solar – electricity
  • Solar – Heat for hot water
  • Wind – for electricity
  • Liquid Bio fuels, from end of process sources
  • Geo-thermal

Lost Opportunity

The new Casino, in Sydney, is a lost opportunity. A building of this scale and usage would have significant waste which can be used to provide the buildings power supplies including:

  • Cooking oils and fats used in liquid bio fuel Tri generation system
  • Food scraps and the like used to make methane to power gas fired Tri Generation Systems.

I’d like to see new major buildings or building complexes have a carbon neutral requirement as part of any DA.


A significant commitment is required from all involved in the design of carbon neutral buildings. There will be a cost impost for this.

Use of new technology has its issues. I’m aware of a few projects utilising solid waste to create syngas, which has not gone well. This said I have personally been involved with many successful liquid bio fuel projects.

Further Reading

Author: Jorgen Knox

Date: 17/08/2014

Contact: e:, t: 02 800 33 100, w: KAE, LI