Workplaces of the Future Summit Wrap Up

Monday 4 February, 2013

After recently celebrating their tenth birthday, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and its members can be encouraged by the start of the next decade. 

The GBCA kicked off their event calendar for 2013 with a packed house at the Hilton on the Park in Melbourne. One hundred attended, which meant that the event was booked out; a good start to the year as architects, engineers, constructors, consultants, government and others voted with their feet. It had been reported over the last six to twelve months that sustainability was doing it tough in the property and construction industries. Try telling these guys.

“Workplaces of the Future” was the theme of the summit. The always impressive Trudy Ann King was the host and she had promised a summit filled with some juicy topics.  

Activity based working (ABW). The buzz term in the commercial office space for the last twelve or so months was the overarching theme of the first session. Sarah Kay from Woods Bagot began with some insights into the digital workplace and engaging with Gen Y. Lain Heather and Monica Klyscz then spoke about how ABW was affecting their workplaces at ARUP and NAB respectively. While Rachel Reese from AECOM spoke about the advantages of ABW, including the greater individual productivity outcomes (self reported), Steve Corser from Hassell said that we need to push the envelope even further and consider how ABW can go beyond productivity and promote creativity, and the attraction and retention of staff.  On a somewhat lighter note, Graham Cottam from Brookfield Multiplex then went to explain that he held some scepticism around ABW. Nonetheless, he reinforced that they weren’t any more difficult to build and he’d be happy to build both ABW spaces and traditional working spaces; as long as the client was happy!  Even Extensions!

The Green Star Transformation session started with a brief background to the new Green Star Interiors tool by Jorge Chapa with comment from Josh Bruce at ISIS, who remarked that over the last twelve months he has had clients request “less bells and whistles”. Amanda Steele was fresh from a holiday in the US and was constantly surprised at how many people were conducting work in a retail environment over there. Moreover, the statistic from a POE of Stockland’s shopping centres, finding that 25% of people in the shopping centre were there to do something other than buy a product, really made a few in the room sit up and notice. The “Missing you already” greeting as you exited the store brought some laughs. Finally Rebecca Breuer from Aurecon explained how she had used the new tool and the different levels of engagement between 5 and 6 star rated projects.  

A quick ten minute break and we were back in.

A lot has been talked about Green Star and Education, and the next session was a chance to look at the new $220 million RMIT Swanston Academic Building. Darren McKee from RMIT, Carey Lyon from Lyons Architects and Andrew Deveson from Brookfield Multiplex all discussed different aspects of the project. Key facets of the design included the desire to create a link between academic space and breakout space, as well as bringing outdoor components indoors, and creating a highly complex and diverse range of city landscape views from each level of the building. BIM was also a critical tool for such a complex building project. 

The International Healthy Buildings Conference was held in Brisbane back in July 2012, but the research generated from the event is still very much of interest to many in the property and construction industry, particularly for those who were not able to make it up to Brisbane at the time.  

Dr. Vyt Garnys from CETEC gave a brief summary of the conference, with some key themes, trends, case studies, and learnings presented. A major message was that health and productivity outcomes need to be considered as paramount, better instrumentation and assessments are possible, and that Australia needs more case studies to confirm delivery of improved IEQ and productivity from design.  (A full copy of Dr Vyt Garnys's presentation is available)

Dr. Anne Hellstedt explored how a lot of the knowledge from research bodies had not been translated to industry yet and that this was something that could be improved in Australia. She also explained how the conference further indicated that healthy buildings could be energy efficient. Genevieve Scarfe from Lend Lease also explored some of the frustrations between the research and its application within industry, citing the various ways of measuring productivity as an example. Her plea was for actionable outcomes for constructors. Finally Professor Richard de Dear from the University of Sydney spoke about the overarching need for healthy and productive buildings, with a particular focus on thermal comfort. He also discussed the idea of “thermal boredom”, as a consequence to tight set temperature bands found in the leases of many commercial office buildings. 

The level of Australian participation (or lack thereof) in Healthy Buildings was highlighted by all four speakers and reminded us that, although we are making great strides in the healthy and productive building space, we can still learn a lot from other countries as they continue to provide the majority of research and outcomes in this space.

 While there was not enough time for questions to the panel, attendees can be heartened by the fact that some further seminars regarding the learning from Healthy Buildings are planned for the coming months. The transition from buildings simply focused on energy efficiency to buildings that promote health and productivity as well is clearly underway by those organizations seeking a competitive advantage.

The GBCA Workplaces of the Future Summit was a great success; indicative of both the number who attended, the calibre of the speakers and the content presented. 

A sesssion in Sydney is in the pipeline.  To see the article as published in The Fifth Estate.