Pixel Building Melbourne: 5 architectural lessons to apply to your new home
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Melburnians were given a treat this weekend, as 59 buildings around the city were opened to the public as part of Melbourne Open House 2010.

As far as Sustainable Architecture goes, the star attraction was Grocon’s Pixel Building – the first carbon neutral office building in Australia.

We took away 5 architectural lessons from the Pixel Building that you can apply to the Design + Build of your new home.

Pixel Building Melbourne: 5 architectural lessons to apply to your new home

Pixel Building - on Grocon's Carlton Brewery site

Grocon’s Pixel Building is certainly about to create Sustainable Architecture history as it attempts to become the first carbon positive building in the world- generating more energy on site than it uses.

We were fortunate enough to be guided through and talked through the Pixel Building by Grocon’s Carlton Brewery Development Site Manager, Mr David Waldren *.

Grocon Development Manager, Mr David Waldren, pointing out the tracking Photovoltaic (PV) Panel Array.

We left impressed and inspired and took away 5 architectural lessons from the Pixel Building that you too can apply to your Design + Build project.

1) Define the win

Pixel Building's definition of Carbon Neutral

Amongst several other environmental sustainability goals, Pixel was expressly designed to generate more energy than it uses.

Takeaway #1: Define the win. Pixel believes it can achieve its goal of being carbon positive within 7 years. What are your specific sustainable architecture goals? How will you know when/if you achieve them?

2) Commit to the vision

Detail of the Living Edge Reed Bed and Pixel facade mounting

With such an audacious ‘win’ clearly defined, the challenge for Pixel’s designers was to ensure that all subsequent decisions were appropriately aligned. Already on a relatively small site commercially speaking, we found it noteworthy that valuable net lettable floorspace (usually one of the major determining factors in commercial building valuation) was sacrificed to allow for the pixel facade screening system and integrated ‘Living edge’ Reed Bed Irrigation/eave shading system.

Takeaway #2: Commit to the vision. There would have been hundreds of opportunities, small and large, where Pixel could have compromised the vision for valid commercial reasons – but they didn’t, even at the considerable cost of gaining much needed net lettable floorspace (and hence building market value). How committed are you to your sustainability ‘win’? How attractive would a commercial decision need to be to sacrifice your ‘win’? Where is the line? Is there one?

3) Design for use

Adjustable floor vents - positioned exactly where occupants will sit

Pixel was designed not just for environmental ratings – but to be Grocon’s head office. As such, the use of office space and more specifically, the maximisation of office productivity was designed into the building from the start. One example was that the underfloor air ventilation system has strategically located adjustable vents – positioned exactly where people will sit once all the furniture is in place.

Takeaway #3: Design for use. Understanding from the outset how you specifically intend to use the spaces in your new home can dramatically alter the design direction – making the end result more strategic (like the Pixel’s air vents) and ultimately more usable. What are the dimensions of the furniture you have? How will you position and use your furniture in your rooms? Is your specific furniture on your plans?

4) Dont forget the basics

Pixel screening system - allowing north light in, blocking western sun out

Pixel has been designed to provide 100% daylight penetration into the office space, whilst allowing screen based technologies (laptops, computers, iphones etc) to be used without the need for blinds on windows.

Takeaway #4: Don’t forget the basics. Although the Pixel facade looks intricate and complicated it is based on simple Sustainable Architecture Pillars. At their most basic, the pixels are simply screens that are positioned to allow desirable northern light in, while blocking unwanted western sun out. With all the latest advances in sustainable building technology, don’t forget to take advantage of the ‘low hanging fruit’. Have you incorporated the 7 Pillars of Sustainable Architecture into your designs?

5) Just give it a go!

Living Roof test beds - which plant species and soil type will work best?

With such high standards, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pixel ‘has it all together’. As advanced as Pixel is however, the owners of Pixel openly admit that because this building is a first on so many fronts, there are areas that they simply can’t quantify the effectiveness of … yet.

One example of this is their innovative use of native, hyper local Australian plant species on their ‘living roof’. They simply do not know which species will perform best given the location, the lack of equivalent plant life in the immediate vicinity, the unpredictable Melbourne rainfall and the differing soil types available. What Pixel has cleverly done though, is setup 4 testbeds testing different species and soil types. In time, Pixel itself will reveal to the owners which combination works best.

Takeaway #5: Just give it a go! Particularly in today’s fast paced information rich society, we feel like we need to have the ‘right’ answer – and we need to have it NOW. Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of Pixel’s book and rather than attempt to ‘arrive’ at the perfectly sustainable house now – instead we should give ourselves permission to just give it a go, test, learn, adapt and most importantly – enjoy the journey!

* Special thanks to both Melbourne Open House and David Waldren of Grocon/Pixel Building for hosting a fantastic, inspirational weekend!

Leave a comment!

Did you participate in Melbourne Open House 2010 this year? If so:

  • Did you pick up additional sustainable architecture ideas that you’d like to share?
  • Did you have further thoughts/comments/links from Melbourne Open House 2010?
  • Further questions about sustainable architecture, design + build?

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