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John Armsby discusses the merits of Richmond's award-winning Green Edge apartment development

The recent BDAV Building Design Awards once more showcased the talents and expertise of Victoria's building designers.

2017 was the 22nd year of the BDAV Design Awards, which aims to "profile excellence in building design, as well as profiling the importance of the building design profession to both the building industry and to the broader community."

One project that ticked the boxes was Green Edge. Formerly an open air car park, the multi-residential design not only offers 9 star energy efficiency but also a certified Greenstar rating, demonstrating a holistic approach to sustainability. 

In light of Green Edge winning the category Energy Efficient Design – Residential and securing a commendation for Multi-Residential Design, Urban Melbourne posed a number of questions to John Armsby of Armsby Architects, the design force behind Green Edge which was delivered by construction firm Team Building on behalf of developer Richmond Icon.

Urban Melbourne: Were Green Edge's heightened sustainability credentials included at the request of the developer, or were you given a free reign of sorts to design as you saw fit?

John Armsby: Given the nature of the site being in such close proximity to a rail line and being off the main shopping strip I suggested to the developer we take this approach and he agreed, as long as it didn’t cost any extra to do so. Therein lay both the task and the challenge.

The project then became a real exercise in what I’d term ‘smart ESD’, meaning that every sustainability initiative had to be justified and ideally function in more than one way. There was no place for token or bolt-on sustainability in this project.

Green Edge's pared back foyer

UM: Was there an added cost to the project (either in design or build phase) associated with the implementation of the added green/sustainability features? In a roundabout sort of way, I'm asking why do you think developments to this standard are not more common?

JA: There was an obvious Greenstar certification and associated consultant cost with the project but the aim was to try and get items that needed to be there regardless to also work sustainably.

Careful consideration was given to every element of the design and by attempting to make every element serve an alternative use, the additional cost turned out to be absolutely minimal. I’m not sure if every project would present the same opportunities to ‘double dip’ that this project has.

The whole aim of Green Edge was to push the limits of what I’d call Mainstream Green, more or less how to produce a green building without the client even noticing. Many green buildings often look ‘strange’ and are off-putting to many purchasers so I was trying to prove that a green building doesn’t have to look ‘odd’ to still be green.

Initially, I started this project by designing footprints for apartments that I thought would work well energy-wise and how and where they should fit together in the building envelope. That then evolved into an experiment in tweaking every aspect of the layout, eg. dropping window heads by 300mm from the ceiling creates a little heat trap which in turn captures the heating and stops the heated air from escaping.

The heart of this project's success lies largely in its energy efficiency. It has a lot of other great stuff going on but if you can get the heating and cooling requirements right then that is a major advantage for the entire lifespan of the building. Once you get energy efficiency up over 9 stars, the heating and cooling costs are negligible.

Interestingly in this project, I have been able to follow up on power and water use and been able to verify all of the original predictions on consumption have been met or beaten.

The project largely contains no west facing windows with most windows to the western side being turned to face north and being protected with a turret-like fin which also removes overlooking of the neighbours. Balcony depths were fiddled with until an optimum depth for solar efficiency was achieved.

This project also utilises an electric heat pump hot water system. While many argue that there are less greenhouse gas emissions from gas hot water systems, in this case the Owners Corp have the opportunity to have zero greenhouse gas emissions if signed up to Green power.

The hot water system is also partially powered by photovoltaics and uses heat pump technology which results in an ultra efficient solution. Another benefit to this hot water system is that when coupled with Induction Cooktops in the kitchens the entire project has an opportunity to be fossil fuel free. 

This system was accepted by the client because it meant no gas pipework was required throughout the building. Not having to run copper gas piping through the building largely compensated the additional cost of installing this system; additionally, the occupants are only paying one utility supply tariff instead of two.

A Green Edge apartment interior

All south facing apartments are close to the railway so all balconies to the south have wintergardens. This not only creates a very large triple glazed acoustic barrier to the trains but also enormously improves the energy efficiency of the project

The building is full of little things like this that all add up to make it a very special project.

UM: What were the different design aspects of creating a green/sustainable building like Green Edge? For instance, greater cooperation between architect and the ESD team?

JA: In this instance, I had the advantage of being the ESD consultant for the initial design phases of the project. Given I have been right in the heart of the sustainability side of the industry for so long it has now become something that seems to find its way into everything we do, often without even specifically trying.

I did then hand the process over to a specialist sustainability consultant to take care of the Greenstar accreditation process.

I would like to see greater feedback and engagement from Sustainability consultants because there is a lot to be learned from the information and data that software such as Firstrate spits out, which architects can make great use of if they knew what it all meant.

The ratings can be used to tell you the weak points in the efficiency of any project if only you know how to interpret the numbers. Often the problem might simply be that a window is just too large and facing the wrong direction and the room is overheating in summer and losing too much heat in winter and this can be seen in the Firstrate data files.

A problem within the Energy Rating industry is that too many developers only want to achieve the minimum level of efficiency so many raters do not get the opportunity to experiment with pushing the limits of efficiency and really tweaking a design

UM: Can you provide a rundown of the major ESD features that distinguish Green Edge?

JA: Its quite an extensive list, with the vast majority covered below:

  • Glazing oriented to avoid west facing glass
  • Any western glass protected with screening devices or frit
  • Optimised north facing balconies and south facing wintergardens
  • Exposed thermal mass
  • Ceiling fans throughout
  • Individual ducting to each exhaust fan or range hood
  • Individual Energy efficiency less than 30mj/m2
  • Sustainably sourced materials with low VOCs
  • Electric PV boosted central hot water heat pump system
  • Dwelling shut down switch
  • Airtight building construction
  • High CoP A/C units. These were installed because the Coefficient of performance meant that they would be cheaper to run annually than a stand alone small panel heater.
  • Energy efficient lighting with motion sensors and timers to public areas
  • Energy efficient fittings and fixtures
  • Rooftop clothes drying racks and residents garden with native vegetation planting
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Recycling of onsite construction waste
  • Recycling opportunity of discarded household objects within the building occupants
  • 1 bike space per apartment
  • On-site reduction of parking below statutory rate
The as yet matured plantings atop Green Edge

UM: Do you have any other projects with similar green/sustainability credentials on the drawing board?

At the moment I have a small project in Port Melbourne which I am looking to construct using mass timber technology. It only has a small footprint but is actually a little taller than Forte in Docklands so will become the tallest residential tower in Australia if I can get it off the drawing board and under construction.

It has very large 3 bedroom and 4 bedroom apartments with only 1 per floor. It also incorporates many of the features of Green Edge, with no gas going into the building and in this instance I want to use individual heat pump hot water systems to each apartment.

It also contains a lot of PV panels however not as many as my Russell Street project (14-22 Russell Street) which has the entire north facing lift and stair core covered in many (thousands) of PV panels. The PV panels are to be used as a cladding system and rain screen to the building

With my latest project being preparing for planning lodgement in Port Melbourne, we are seeking to integrate PV panels right into the facade design. We have been in discussions with a PV panel manufacturer to get custom sized PV panels and have them glazed straight into the facade instead of alpolic or other spandrel finishes.

The cost of PV panels has dropped enormously to the point where this sort of thing is now financially viable. It is now possible to have a facade which can quite literally pay for itself. It is intended that this project will also have Greenstar accreditation but also has a lot of other interesting things going on which we are quite excited about.

That will need to be the topic for another day though.

2 comments

3000's picture

So the Russell street project is still in the works after all. I heard it was changed from office to resi

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John Armsby's picture

Yes Russell Street is still ticking along, it just happens to be caught between 3 planning schemes but no plans for residential

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