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Feature article

BedZED EcoVillage in Hackbridge UK – the prototype for One Planet Living _ Photograph Tom Chance

Enabling One Planet Lifestyles through Design

WORDS BY Ed Cotter

What do a small shed located in one of Melbourne’s laneways, a rundown factory next to a railway line and a heritage listed primary school building have in common?


One Planet Living

Each of these cutting edge projects has sought to make it possible for residents to lead happy and healthy lives within their fair share of the Earth’s limited resources. The 5×4 Hayes Lane project in East Melbourne, The Commons in Brunswick and the WestWyck EcoVillage in West Brunswick, have all incorporated sustainable design principles by addressing key targets set by One Planet Living, its Assessment Framework and its ten Principles.

This article will look at the application of One Planet Living for the three projects, but firstly a few of the fundamentals that underpin the methodology require definition including Ecological Footprinting and the ten Principles.


What is One Planet Living?

One Planet Living is, quite simply, a vision for the world where it is easy, affordable and attractive for people everywhere to lead happy and healthy lives within the limits of the finite resources of the planet.

This is underpinned by high-level indicators such as the Happy Planet Index and Ecological Footprinting to help determine the key areas that should be addressed by users of the methodology.

It is a holistic sustainability approach that identifies which issues are within the direct remit of the design team (such as building orientation and fabric) and which issues can only be influenced (such as resident behaviours) or advocated (such as changes to building regulations and the ways products are manufactured.)


What are the ten Principles?

Designers applying One Planet Living to an individual project will use the ten Principles to help shape and influence the environmental, social and economic sustainability objectives outcomes. The ten Principles are outlined below and cover everything from zero carbon and zero waste, through to health and happiness.


What is Ecological Footprinting?

Ecological Footprinting is a measure of human demand on the Earth’s ecosystems. It is calculated as the total area of biologically productive land and water that an individual, population or activity requires to meet its resource consumption needs and absorb the waste it generates.

According to the Global Footprint Network, the 2012 Living Planet Report identified that the average Australian had an ecological footprint of about 6.7 global hectares, or close to a four planet lifestyle.


What are Common International Targets?

The Common International Targets are broken into two components – those that measure the performance of the project and those that measure how residents live. The first component is focused on reducing a resident’s CO2 emissions to 4.0 tonnes per year by 2020 (0.8 by 2050), their Ecological Footprint to 1.7 global hectares per year (1.25 by 2050) and to ensure that their lifestyle does not pollute land, water or air.

The second component also sets the design team a range of targets, which are directly linked to each of the ten Principles. Several of these targets are customised to account for local conditions, although traditional metrics like zero carbon and zero waste remain consistent internationally. 


5×4 Hayes Lane – East Melbourne

Size does matter and is a critical component in the design of any sustainable development. This project site, measuring five by four metres in an East Melbourne alley offered an under-used, centrally located site and a tiny building footprint. This was both a challenge and an opportunity for the project team and the client, Ralph Alphonso.

The home was designed in an integrated manner with key professionals, such as Craig Chapman from ARKit (the architect) and Tai Hollingsbee from GHD (the ESD Engineer) who helped with the creation of a One Planet Action Plan that set the key parameters for the design.

The home will be built to achieve a nine star energy rating through a combination of a super insulated building envelope and effective orientation of glazing. This was especially tricky considering the site’s restrictions, including minimal solar access to the north.

The building will be constructed using prefabrication techniques that will help to minimise construction waste. The building materials were chosen to achieve a balance between minimising the embodied energy of the materials used and maximising their thermal performance.

The design of key services such as heating, cooling and domestic hot water were linked directly to layout and design. Consideration of natural ventilation flow paths in the design combined with ceiling fans and internal thermal mass avoided the need for air conditioning.

The project is targeting a water neutral status, implementing Water Sensitive Urban Design considerations, aiming to reduce internal water consumption by over 50%, supplying water from a simple rainwater tank and treating all surface water before it leaves the site.

The building’s location in East Melbourne provides the owner with proximity to all the amenities that he might need: frequent public transport, fresh fruit and vegetables, the Melbourne CBD and the MCG.

The site is located in a heritage listed area, so the design needed to tastefully complement the nearby period homes, otherwise issues may have arisen with both council and owners of neighbouring properties. To its advantage was its relatively hidden position down a laneway and a concerted local community engagement campaign that have enabled it to gain strong support from the local residents, as well as the City of Melbourne.

By applying the ten Principles in a flexible and integrated manner the project design team has created a home that will help the client to live sustainably without compromising his lifestyle.

Construction is due to be completed in late-2014. Prior to moving in, the client will open his new home as a display suite to share the lessons learnt with the public.


The Commons – Brunswick

The Commons is home to 24 high quality apartments. It is located in the heart of Melbourne’s inner suburb of Brunswick, between Sydney Road and the Upfield Railway Line. Its position exemplifies the concept of five-minute living and smart site selection.

The 700 square metre site was initially rezoned as part of the City of Moreland’s Industrial Land-Use Strategy. An old factory building occupied the site. The project’s design has capitalised on the existing site conditions by reusing many of the site’s original assets, such as the old bricks from the factory.

The rezoning was driven in part by a planning application submitted by Jeremy McCleod (the architect, then potential developer, now resident) from Breathe Architecture. His vision for the site and the surrounding area was inspired by the design work completed on the BedZED EcoVillage in Hackbridge (south of London) by architect Bill Dunster and the Zed-Factory team.

As a result The Commons has set a very high standard for sustainable living in the medium to high-density housing market. It has incorporated a range of key initiatives including an average eight star energy rating for apartments, reuse of existing building materials, provision of a range of communal spaces and elimination of on-site car parking spaces.

Built by Kubic, the project was completed in late November 2013. Adam Borowski, the Development Manager for the project’s developer Small Giants, highlighted that the location in Brunswick and the demographics of the area helped reduce the risk associated with the project. Eighty Five per cent of the buyers are owner-occupiers at The Commons, with a strong uptake by professional single women.

A local real estate agent confirmed there was a significant appetite for sustainable development of a high quality in the City of Moreland, especially in the suburb of Brunswick. The existence of real demand for this type of development lowered the developer’s risk of creating a high performance building with no  air conditioning or on-site car parking.

Now complete, work will start to determine how it actually performs and how satisfied the occupants are with the lifestyle created for them. The Moreland Energy Foundation Limited (MEFL) will be conducting an occupant behavioural engagement program not only to try to influence residents’ use of energy, water and transport, but also to assist in creating a sense of community.

Several sustainability professionals from the project team are moving into The Commons, attracted by its sustainability credentials. This may just be an indicator of the quality of the project.


WestWyck EcoVillage – West Brunswick

In 1990, as the demographics of West Brunswick started to change, its local primary school was deemed to be unviable due to dwindling student numbers. Completed in 2007, the first stage of WestWyck development not only managed to save the historic building from potential demolition, but also created, possibly, one of the most recognised sustainable communities in Australia.

The first stage included the creation of five new townhouses and the conversion of the southern half of the old school building into seven contemporary apartments. Some of the key sustainability features included 7.5 star energy ratings, the installation of solar thermal hot water systems, photovoltaic cells, rainwater tanks, and grey-water and black-water treatment and reuse. One of the biggest successes for the first stage was that the average resident of WestWyck uses less than 50 litres of water per day. In comparison, the average Melburnian uses over 155 litres daily.

Stage One also demonstrated the benefits of designing a place with people and the community at the heart of the design process. This resulted in the inclusion of a range of communal pathways and shared spaces fostering chance interactions between residents that help to build a sense of community.

In June 2013, the second stage was awarded the status for being Australia’s first formally endorsed One Planet Community. This stage will see the northern half of the old school building converted into 5 warehouse style apartments and the creation of 13 new homes in 2 apartment blocks on the northeast and northwest parts of the site fronting onto Victoria Street.

The design has been led by architecture practice multiplicity who have created a contemporary design for the apartment blocks which complements the heritage listed school building. This design is set within a native landscape that enhances both its urban ecology and the sense of community for the residents.

Some of the key sustainability initiatives include: energy ratings of up to eight star for the dwellings, use of highly efficient heating and cooling systems, ability for residents to connect a 2.5 kilowatt photovoltaic system to their apartments, a 70,000 litre rainwater tank and a new grey-water reuse system. These features have been delivered in an integrated manner and are expected to result in a 75 per cent reduction in typical energy and water consumption, and a significant increase in social capital (linked to health and well-being indicators) as a result of smart design.

The development team at WestWyck (Mike Hill and Lorna Pitt) always sought to challenge the traditional development model in Australia. As a result the process has not always run smoothly, but the end product is a project that will be a world leading sustainability icon for years to come.

In addition, WestWyck has made a commitment to measure, benchmark and report on the annual performance of the site. Residents will be given feedback on how they are using the facilities. The monitoring will determine whether the facilities are making it easy for residents to lead a one planet lifestyle.


Benefits of using One Planet Living

These projects demonstrate that the One Planet Living approach is about applying logic and common sense, backed up with scientific evidence, to assist professionals deliver sustainable design outcomes for the community. The approach helps to find a balance between people, profit and planet.

Each of these unique projects has demonstrated the flexibility allowed by designing homes and communities through the ten Principles.

In the near future it will be very interesting to hear feedback from the residents reflecting on their experiences of living in these exemplary sustainable developments.



Ed Cotter is the Head of BioRegional Australia, the not-for-profit organisation that oversees the application of One Planet Living by built environment professionals and assessment of projects against the ten Principles. Ed has previously led the development of green rating tools including, Green Star Communities, the Malaysian Township Tool, BREEAM Communities and BREEAM International for Spain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Turkey. He also worked locally on the STEPS and SDS green building rating tools. 


Florence Street frontage_ Image courtesy of Small Giants and Kubic Constructions. Photographer: Michael Downes, Urban Angles Photography

The Commons bike path facade_Image courtesy of Small Giants and Kubic Constructions. Photographer: Michael Downes, Urban Angles Photography

The Commons roof garden_Image courtesy of Small Giants and Kubic Constructions. Photographer: Michael Downes, Urban Angles Photography

Victoria Street frontage WestWyck EcoVillage_Photograph courtesy of multiplicity