Smart Design

It’s a measure of both the design and architecture industries’ commitment to the environment that high quality sustainability-focused work is being produced in Australia.

It’s a measure of both the design and architecture industries’ commitment to the environment that high quality sustainability-focused work is being produced in Australia. Some of the country’s most notable designers and architects are involved in pushing this agenda and the current outcomes are innovative, cost-effective and award-winning. We talk to Jeremy McLeod, Justin Hermes and Matt Woods about their sustainable design practices. JEREMY MCLEOD As the founder and principal of one of Australia’s most well respected sustainable architecture firms, Breathe Architecture, Melbourne-based McLeod has a reputation for walking the walk and talking the talk. How is current sustainable design practice different from when you began practicing? When I established Breathe Architecture in 2001 we were probably only one of seven sustainable architecture firms in Melbourne. So the biggest change is our competition. Back when I was studying in 1990 there was only one environmental design course in the country, now it’s taught across multiple universities at every level. Everyone is aware of climate change and a lot of architects and designers are taking it seriously. It still frustrates me to see that some don’t, but it’s great to see so many firms doing good work. Is your lo-fi aesthetic a deliberate stylistic intention? We’re constantly asking our clients and ourselves what is needed rather than what is wanted. We don’t like to build houses that are more than 220sqm and so our first design consideration is around house size and building for necessity. The other thing we do is look at the design in terms of orientation, ventilation and incorporating sustainable technologies from the outset. We’re always peeling back layers of unnecessary stuff and a lot of the projects we do are about stripping things out and building less. Do you think we’ve become less reckless with our resources as a society? About seven years ago I noticed that people were starting to accept climate change was for real. This shift in attitude coincided with the drought and all of a sudden clients were asking us for water tanks. As architects we stopped fighting with our clients over sustainability features. But I’m starting to see apathy from people. It’s like we had this golden opportunity when everyone first realised climate change was upon us and now we’ve sort of plateaued. As architects we not only have the ability to change the energy consumption or profile of a particular family or organisation, we have the potential to inspire so other people can follow. We have a lot of responsibility and I think we can step it up. We’ve all got to do better. JUSTIN HERMES Recently launching his showroom in Adelaide’s CBD this Adelaide Hills-based designer-maker is fast making a name for himself with bespoke furniture made from reclaimed and salvaged materials. Has the demand for furniture made of reclaimed materials increased in recent years? There is an eco trend at the moment that’s been increasing exponentially; the demand for reclaimed materials has gone through the roof in the past 10 years. People are seeing the value in utilising these materials and the idea of locking up carbon in timber rather than having it burnt or chipped. Demand is such that I’ve also started salvaging timber – actually salvaging trees. It’s extra work but it comes with extra reward and so the effort involved in converting, storing and preparing the material more than pays for itself in terms of the end result. What sustainability principles underlie your work as a designer maker? My primary philosophy is to let the material do most of the work and try to leave it in as much of its natural state as possible. The process involved in using salvaged timber typically takes a year or two. I first take the logs to a saw miller where they are cut into slabs and then for every inch of thickness I have to let the slab dry for one year. Converting the timber myself presents exciting opportunities and I’m committed to the idea that these materials are worth saving and that it’s good for the environment and the end user. There’s so much more for people to enjoy when they’re receiving furniture that’s been made in this way from materials that have been treated with care. Are there any stories behind the materials that have particularly resonated with you? I’ve got a couple of clients who have been sad about having to get rid of some beautiful trees, so rather than go through the process of fire-wooding or mulching they’ve come to me for an alternative approach. They’ve got a real attachment to the material and have already invested money into converting it and invested time into waiting for it to dry. We still have to engage in the actual design process and make decisions about how to treat it, so the most exciting stories aren’t even half-way finished. MATT WOODS This Sydney-based sole practitioner is responsible for some of the city’s most exciting small-scale hospitality fit outs. Woods doesn’t necessarily present his practice as sustainability-focused, but his strong eco values underpin every one of his designs. How do you apply a sustainable design ethos to your hospitality fit outs? Nine times out of 10 clients don’t come to me saying they want something sustainable – although I assume they know I have a sustainable attitude. It’s pretty much at the core of what I do, so every decision is made with a sustainability perspective in mind, from layout to orientation and choice of materials. I don’t consider myself to be much of a decorator, so I’m not about adding superfluous detail. Some of my interiors are eclectic, but what I’m really trying to do is strip them back and let the materials speak for themselves. You recently finished your first office fit out. How were you able to incorporate innovative design features considering the modest budget? I think The Hallway client was interested in the fact that I wasn’t an office designer and so I’d be approaching the design from a completely different perspective. They wanted me to treat their office not as an office space per se, but rather as a fun environment to hang out in. Trying to think of creative ways to do things that haven’t been done before is quite difficult when working with a small budget, but at the same time it’s an interesting challenge. How has the sustainable design landscape changed since you began your practice? I’m an industrial designer by trade, but I received my Master of Design Science (Sustainable Design) from University of Sydney four years ago. I noticed at that time there was a big gap in the market and not a lot of people were doing what I thought should be done. So my very first project upon graduation was sustainability-based and it’s something that I’ve constantly been pushing ever since. It’s not even a conversation I have with clients any more; it’s just something that I do.

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