The threat climate change poses is existential, and buildings are hugely complicit—even more so than the car. Buildings consume some 40 percent of the energy in Australia annually, and they emit nearly half of the carbon dioxide, through Greenfield development, construction, heating and cooling.

From the cutting edge to the everyday home, the role of an Architect must be to rethink design, construction and the operation of buildings in order to mitigate climate change. Architecture must change with the climate, and change now, in order for humanity to survive, and hopefully thrive.

Architects (and engineers) can do quite a lot, and that’s also why we have such a high responsibility. If we do not act fast and swift, the resource depletion of our planet will destroy the last remaining intact ecosystems. And future generations will not only have to face a dire lack of resources but also an embarrassing abundance of toxic waste — because that is what most of the buildings constructed today are after all (if you consider their suitability for future recycling).

I believe a sustainable building should require zero energy from external sources. It should produce zero carbon dioxide or other emissions that are harmful to humans or the environment. And last, but not least: when the building is being converted or deconstructed, there should be zero waste. At Hillam Architects, we are continuing to strive towards these zero energy, zero waste goals; however, the commercial reality of budgets and traditional construction methods prove to be a continuous challenge. 

Our competition winning proposal for 39 new apartments on Knutsford Street in Fremantle is our latest project to really take the lead in sustainable design. It is a development that will be designed to create a community with a diverse range of healthy and sustainable living options within the existing Fremantle suburban area. Through the 10 Principles within the One Planet Living (OPL) framework it will take the standard of living in the area to a new level by incorporating a number of initiatives across the development that encourages its residents to lead happy, healthy and sustainable lives:

• 8-star (Building Code requires 5-star) energy efficiency target for the apartments;

• Air-conditioning provided to the living/dining areas only but not to the bedrooms. Ceiling fans will be provided as an alternative to significantly reduce energy consumption;

• 50kWp of PV panels installed on the roof of the development with embodied networks to power both apartments and common areas separately metered;

• Communal gardens and BBQ spaces for community interaction and social cohesion;

• Water-saving fixtures and fittings, and rainwater harvesting;

• Smart metering to monitor and track water and energy consumption, with the aim to instil behaviour change and reduce consumption;

• An online web and app for the development to outline the OPL principles, allow residents to monitor their energy and water use, advertise community events, recommendations for reducing waste and much more.

Whilst many similar developments continue to operate a business-as-usual approach to residential building, this project will step out of the developer comfort zone and show courage and leadership to design a development that stands out. Hopefully, one day this becomes the minimum benchmark for all future residential and community developments.