City & Country: A model of carbon neutrality

The Pixel Building in Melbourne, Australia, is being hailed as a prototype of the “office of the future”, designed to tackle head-on the issue of carbon footprint. The 4-storey, 10,763 sq ft “carbon neutral” building is a A$6 million (RM17.3 million) project by Grocon, an Australian construction company. The Pixel Building is the first of its kind in the country.

Shane Esmore, director of consulting engineers Umow Lai, used the building as a case study during the Malaysian Institute of Architects’ (PAM) Green Building forum, held in conjunction with PAM’s annual architectural design forum and exhibition in Kuala Lumpur on July 2.

While carbon neutral buildings are already in existence, with several smaller buildings in the US and Germany, the Pixel Building will be the first to be constructed in an urban environment. According to Grocon CEO Daniel Grollo, any carbon emission used by its ongoing operation will be offset by renewable energy from large photovoltaic panels on the roof and wind turbines, and all the carbon embodied in the materials that make up the structure will also be offset over time through the use of renewable energies. A 50-year lifecycle is projected for the offset of the materials used in the construction of the building.

Artist's impression of the side (left) and front facades of the Pixel BuildingThe project is a response to the growing level of government interest and the imminent regulatory framework for management of carbon pollution globally. The UK stated last year that all residential projects will be carbon neutral by 2019 and aims for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero carbon by the same year. In the US, the California government has set a requirement for all new construction in the state to be zero net energy by 2030.

Carbon neutral benchmark
The Australian government is taking a similar stance with the much-debated federal government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), which aims to make significant improvements in dealing with carbon by placing imposts upon the source of the pollution. Grollo believes the Pixel Building, located at the Carlton Brewery site on Swanston Street, will be a benchmark that will pave the way for the growth of carbon neutral structures and environmentally sustainable office space.

In 2008, Grocon appointed architect studio505, sustainability experts Umow Lai and structural engineers Van Der Meer to design the building. The original idea was to design a zero carbon building, which, unlike a carbon neutral building, will only offset carbon generated annually in running the building through renewable energies.

However, upon completion of the design development process and further investigation, the findings concluded that the building had the capacity to be carbon neutral. An optimistic Grocon is also confident the Pixel Building will be able to deliver a never before achieved 100% Green Star score. Green Star is Australia’s green building rating tool developed in 2003.

Essential features
Esmore says one of his lessons learnt regarding sustainable buildings is to develop and articulate a clear vision for the built environment, and the Pixel Building has the features needed to articulate the vision of becoming a carbon neutral building. The building’s important features include:

•  Supply of 100% fresh outside air at a rate of three times the minimum building code requirements, to be distributed through the floor with an individual control at each workstation.

•  An absorption heat pump chiller, a new technology from Europe, will be used to heat and cool the building. The chiller uses ammonia as a refrigerant and contains no harmful ozone, global warming or legionella emissions.

•  Grey water will be recycled through a unique reed bed system that also acts to shade the windows, enabling the building to use rainwater as the main source of water supply.

•  Exposed concrete ceiling slabs to be cooled via pipes embedded in the concrete and carrying cool water. This will provide high comfort through radiant cooling while consuming minimal energy.

•  More than 75% of the building’s roof will be covered with native grasses in the form of a green roof. The grasses will help filter the rainwater and insulate the structure.

•  A detailed environmental management plan will be adopted to minimise environmental impact during construction, with over 95% of the construction waste to be recycled.

•  Materials used to build the office will be selected for low embodied energy and to avoid volatile organic compounds and other off-gassing chemicals that can affect the health of occupants.

The Pixel Building is set to begin construction this month and is located within the proximity of Melbourne University and RMIT University, which form part of Melbourne’s knowledge precinct. The project is scheduled for completion by March next year.

Upon completion, the building will serve as a Grocon project office for the duration of its A$1 billion urban renewal programme. This project, which will include retail, commercial and residential properties, will be delivered in stages from 2013.

More importantly, the Pixel Building will serve as a catalyst for the proliferation of environmentally friendly carbon neutral buildings not only in Australia but the region as well.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 765, July 27-Aug 2, 2009


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