How building design is better adapting to local climes

New designs are creating a better employee experience while delivering environmental benefits

November 02, 2018

The need for jackets and shawls in the office is an all-too-common complaint for employees living in sunny sub-tropical climates.

Fortunately nowadays, environmentally-sustainable architecture is on the case.

Tackling the indoor cold in sunny seasons is just one benefit for office towers that are increasingly incorporating sustainable designs, which in addition to helping mitigate the effects of climate change, can also help cut costs and attract tenants.

On the east coast of Australia in Brisbane, a 32-story tower at 80 Ann Street was designed to minimize the use of air conditioning, one of the biggest consumers of energy in hot environments.

As well as emphasising common spaces that have an outdoors element, some areas can be closed and air-conditioned when needed to shut out rain and heat. But they are otherwise left open.

“You’ll be able to sit at your desk and not be in a fridge,” says Mark Damant, head of workplace architecture globally at Woods Bagot, the lead architect. “An essential part of the brief for 80 Ann Street was to have spaces that breathe. They wanted to have every floor connected to the outside.”

Staying cool when hot

The adoption of climate-specific real estate depends on government and country management, economic prosperity, investment drivers and capital availability, says Kate Slattery, Director of Energy Sustainability Services at JLL.

Singapore, for instance, makes “great use of the local climate and tropical environment to create a number of buildings with seamless indoor-outdoor spaces that deliver on the design element objectives,” she says.

Scandinavian countries are among the leaders in climate-specific development. Nearer the North Pole, the objective is keeping buildings warm rather than cool.

It’s the opposite in places like Singapore and Brisbane, although there is a common environmental theme regardless.

“I think we’re just at the start of a whole new development about facades, and how they work in a climate-specific way,” Damant says.

For the generations that he quips have “become conditioned to being air-conditioned,” Damant believes change is in demand — and that companies are not just listening, but acting.

James Montague, Senior Director, Office Leasing in Queensland for JLL, says: “If you’re a major professional services business or top-tier law firm law firm, the ones that are the first movers into this space will have a massive advantage in the pursuit for new talent, saying, ‘Our workplace provides you with all of these benefits’.’’

Brisbane making the case

Brisbane, a city with an average of 261 sunny days a year, is a prime example of a city where it makes sense to maximize an enviable climate.

This is large part of what drove Brisbane City Council’s New World City Design Guide — Buildings that Breathe, which provided the blueprint for 80 Ann Street, Damant says.

Brisbane’s guide articulates a vision for achieving subtropical building design in the Queensland capital. This means including welcoming cooling breezes; maximizing light and shade; reducing energy, water consumption, waste and pollution; improving employee comfort and wellbeing; and reflecting local culture and character.

Montague believes the transformation extends beyond building and fit-out design to the bigger picture of workplace evolution.

He points to  480 Queen Street in Brisbane, an office tower featuring a rooftop entertainment deck and open spaces throughout the podium level, enabling employees to be outside without leaving the building.

A journey to sustainability

To be sure, even among landmark Brisbane developments, there have been varying degrees of implementation rather than the full adoption of all eight key design elements of buildings that breathe, Slattery says.

For example, a building may encompass the majority of elements on a rooftop or lobby, without carrying the concepts through to the tenancy and other common areas.

But overall, this is the where global design trends are headed, whether from a town planning, architectural, engineering and operational perspective, Slattery says.

“Investors and developers respond to the market, and the market — tenants, residents and corporations — are clamoring for green buildings that are both functional, occupier-friendly, and ‘smart’ in terms of building technology and management/tenant operation,’’ she says. “All participants in developments are chasing sustainability metrics and demand demonstration of energy efficiency initiatives.’’