When friends suggested a trip to Burwood Brickworks Shopping centre I jumped at the chance. My friends let me know it had been recognised Internationally as one of the most sustainable shopping centres in the southern hemisphere. It was built to meet the rigorous Living Building Challenge criteria for sustainability known as petals requirements, which are about “imagining a building as if it is a flower a simple symbol for the ideal built environment.” The Living Building Challenge is organized into seven performance areas: Place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity and beauty. The developers behind Burwood brickworks are Frasers property Australia group. On its unveiling on 6th December 2019, Peri McDonald Executive General Manager of Frasers property group spoke on the uniqueness of the development:
“When we look at the Living Building Challenge™ petal requirements, there is so much more that is required than just technical sustainability. We are looking at things like beauty and spirit, biophilia, urban agriculture and equitable investment which are all factors that challenge the normal procedures and operations of shopping centres globally and align with Frasers Property’s vision to create greener hubs for local communities,” It is an ambitious and innovative prospect for any commercial building development and much needed to combat climate change and reduce emissions as well as waste. I was keen to discover how it met this ethos.
On arriving at Burwood Brickworks I was immediately struck by it’s external beauty in architectural design including external walls with potted trees and plants that will grow to cover the building exteriors and provide further shade and insulation plus add to the ecology of the rooftop farm and plants in the area whilst providing shelter for birds, wildlife and insects. The external parking areas are common enough, with trees planted to provide shade, there is a lot of bike parking visible as well as electric car chargers in the underground parking.
On entering the shopping centre, we were met with a beautiful vista of reclaimed wood panelling and wooden signage, not much plastic or glossy materials including marbling in sight. Dangling is a glittering makeshift candelabra made from pieces of reclaimed wood and dangling lights. It creates a beautiful sculptural element, and the wood gives it a warm and inviting appearance. Covering the ceilings is aboriginal art acknowledging the local first nations owners, the Wurundjeri peoples.
It is clear that the materials have been chosen with care and every detail of the building has been considered with reused materials visible throughout such as ex-oil drums as indoor planters. This includes its waste management with an assortment of bins for visitors to sort a variety of waste types including composting green bin, glass, paper and cardboard, hard plastic & metals, and finally landfill. In fact, all stores in the shopping centre must comply with a waste policy and sorting its waste in this manner including supermarket giant Woolworths. This Woolworths did not seem overly waste conscious, it still provided plastic bags for its fruit and veg and there was a lot of packaging on view but there was signage to promote the Redcycle bin and customers bringing their bags to the store. There are other eco-friendly stores there that sell products with the natural environment and emissions in mind such as Biome and Cannings free range butcher. It is also immediately noticeable that there is no fluorescent lighting anywhere or in any store. The building design has maximised the use of natural light filtering into stores with additional LED lighting and across the building.
The building is powered by solar panels and water capture for its plants, rooftop farm, sewerage and secondary uses for stores important elements of sustainability for modern buildings. The piece de resistance though is the rooftop farm, it covers the rooftop in carefully arranged beds and meandering paths that let you enjoy the many varieties of herbs, vegetables, fruit trees growing there creating its own ecological wonderland. There is also a quail coop and bee hive as well displaying the ways in which food can be sourced and cultivated with less food miles and still in keeping with the ecology of a place. A café and restaurant amongst it serve dishes sourced from the farm with a few additional locally derived ingredients.
So, is this building a truly living building? It certainly seems to be, it serves the community by creating gathering places and a day out that does not extract more than it needs. It has been built to manage its resources, materials and continues to do so, ‘waste not to want not’ is the ethos that is part of the building in more ways than just product packaging. The challenges that remain is how to consume responsibly and can a shopping centre be truly sustainable if it facilitates consumption? They are interesting dilemmas that are at the heart of reducing waste, perhaps this model of consuming only what is required and giving back to the natural ecology and local economy is a way forward.
The Living Building Challenge https://living-future.org/lbc/