Recycling is a subject close to Steve Urwin’s heart, head and, actually, the whole world around him.
For as part of his mission to champion the cause of sustainability, he created his own business office by recycling industrial space and then fitting it out using completely recycled and abandoned materials and furniture.
“But it doesn’t look like it at all!” said Mr Urwin, director of commercial tenancy consultants Kernel Property, who has just won the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ National Sustainable Project Award for the premises.
“We had a vision to create an inspiring new workspace that reflected out core values – always looking to recycle and reuse – as well as our skills and expertise. Our office has been carved out of this ‘lost space’ and transformed into a fully functioning workplace.”
The premises, a previously unused diesel generator room, have indeed become a spectacular showcase for the virtues of salvaging both cast-off plant room space that might otherwise languish, and materials that would have ended up in landfill.
It’s a stunning 200 square-metre area high up on level 17 of Sydney’s 1 O’Connell Street: light, airy, with views over to the Harbour Bridge and Circular Quay one way, and glass looking into the rest of the plant the other, and absolutely chockful of character.
With raw concrete, full walls of glass and high ceilings still with the original pipework and ducting, every piece of furniture inside has a story and a history, and the company’s aim is to provide it all with a much longer life.
The plant room’s former service balcony, without a balustrade, for example, has been transformed into a usable terrace, with recycled timber decking from the home of one of the company’s directors. That has served to open up the repurposed room and means that fresh air can mostly replace airconditioning.
Meanwhile, the plumbing of the old hazmat shower from an old battery room has been turned into two unisex bathrooms, and glazing from a client’s former workplace has been reused to create Kernel’s boardroom. At the same time, joinery from a former library has gone into creating the kitchen and some of the light fittings, the meeting room table has come from law firm Allens’ Melbourne offices and basins in the bathroom from independent investment bank Gresham Partners.
Moreover, the space that’s been designed is also extremely functional, modern, flexible and agile. The workplace can be changed quickly, with the flick of a button, into a large 80-seat function space via a specially-designed system of a winch to lift cable trays and monitors to the ceiling, and flip-top desks that can be rolled away and stored, making it unnecessary to expand the company’s physical footprint.
Chris Nicholl, managing director of Oceania RICS says the company was the rightful winner of the sustainability award. “They showcased an outstanding example of innovation and commitment to sustainable solutions,” he says. “Their design showcases how creativity, innovative thinking and sustainable construction can work together to deliver outstanding results.”
For Mr Urwin, The Generator Room project has been a wonderful opportunity to emphasise how recycling can make not only financial savings, but also contribute to sustainability. As a company representing both large and small commercial office tenants across Australia, assisting with individual premises and whole property portfolios, he feels it’s a message that has huge potency.
“One of our core values at Kernel Property is, ‘Always look to recycle and reuse’,” says Mr Urwin, who also regularly represents tenants on industry advisory panels and is a long-standing member of the Property Council (PCA) Commercial Office Committee. “Our commitment to sustainability is embedded in our culture and in the way we all work every day.
“Our workplace has become a true physical manifestation of our core values and the way we work and those values are top of mind for all of us through how we deliver services to our clients. We have an awful lot of visitors to our office, and people see what we can achieve and how we wear our heart on our sleeve in terms of being creative.”
The stylish workplace, with exposed metal beams, ducting and pipework across the ceiling, has retained and played up its industrial character. The entranceway has black blockwork walls and original plantroom floors painted bright red and red piping.
There’s also a phone booth from Finland to provide absolutely soundproof space for quiet conversations within the open plan office.
Mr Urwin knew about the unused space from his time working with the original developer of the building, Northbourne Developments.
“Most common commentaries on sustainability focus on ‘the new’ and how green they are in new development and
product, and not enough credit is given, we believe, to those who re-use or repurpose existing buildings, products and materials,” he said.
“Of course, we support an energy efficient approach to new buildings but believe that ratings themselves often become an expensive exercise for little gain.”
Kernel employee, chartered building surveyor Amanda Brown, said The Generator Room was a wonderful place to work.
“It’s amazing; I absolutely love its flexibility and quirkiness,” she said. “I think there’s 55,000 tonnes of office waste in terms of furniture that gets thrown out every year, so it’s great to be able to see everything around you being repurposed and getting a new lease of life, from the space to all the fittings.”
The workspace last year also won the City of Sydney CitySwitch Green Office Awards’ New Signatory of the Year Award, with the NSW judging panel saying: “Kernel Property executed an innovative project that went beyond business as usual. A true success story about waste avoidance; and that’s something you want to reward.”