Conservation as Sustainability

Megan Jones – Conservation as Sustainability

On October 17, Tanner Kibble Denton Architects Practice Director Megan Jones delivered her paper titled ‘Heritage Conservation is Sustainable’ at a Symposium titled ‘Heritage Conservation as Environmental Conservation’ held at the University of Melbourne.

Heritage Conservation is Sustainable

Tanner Kibble Denton Architects has guided the conservation and adaptation of several major early 20th century institutional buildings in Sydney and Brisbane. Each harnessed natural light and ventilation through lightwells, large windows, high ceilings and narrow footprints, while quality materials and detailing ensured durability with massive external walls of concrete structure and solid stone masonry with steel and bronze-framed windows. Electric lighting was integral, but not mechanical ventilation, heating or cooling systems. These buildings represent good practice in environmentally sustainable design.

Each project conserved and restored facades, structure, internal floor plates and high ceilings, lightwells and atria within existing building envelopes and quality external and internal finishes. In all cases “new works” were limited to internal fit-out and services, with minor alterations to facades and structure.

While assisting with the GBCA submissions for each of these projects it became apparent that the “green star” rating criteria did not recognise these heritage buildings’ inherent value. The re-use of the building was not adequately recognised nor was the buildings’ contribution to our understanding of our history and culture. It was apparent that the GBCA rating tools were developed to assess a new building’s operational energy use rather than the whole of life energy use including building construction.

Re-using buildings is one of the highest forms of environmentally sustainable design because it respects and preserves cultural, social, environmental and financial values. The greenest building is the one already standing. Demolition and new construction, no matter how energy efficient, requires decades to achieve the energy savings from conserving and adapting an existing building. Environmental merits may seem obvious, but difficult to prove until appropriate data and tools are developed or recognised by the GBCA.

There are significant gaps in existing green rating tools including considerations of durability, embodied energy and life cycle analysis. The inclusion of social and cultural metrics would acknowledge heritage conservation as a sustainable action.
This discrepancy undermines the credibility of the rating system as applied to the largest portion of the built environment: existing buildings.

Australia requires a radical change in attitude so that “green star” rating criteria adequately address all the savings coming from re-using existing materials and structures. As individuals and institutions strive for greener buildings, our industry must acknowledge that conservation and adaptive reuse is the ultimate in environmentally sustainable design.

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