In a nondescript shopping mall in middle Australia, a quiet building revolution is taking place.
A candidate for world’s most sustainable retail mall is nearing completion on the site of a former brickworks in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs. The development will produce a large chunk of its energy needs, has a fully-functioning urban farm, collects and recycles its water and the amount of toxic materials used in its construction has been kept to a minimum.
The Burwood Brickworks shopping centre, being built by Singapore diversified property giant Frasers, hopes to be the first shopping centre in the world to be accredited under the Living Building Challenge standards, one of the toughest benchmarks for sustainable development.
At first glance, the $120 million low-lying building is like any ordinary suburban mall: it has an expansive outdoor car park, a large format Woolworths, a Dan Murphy’s liquor outlet, a six-screen Reading Cinema complex and 46 speciality stores.
But hidden within its construction are many unique features.
The bitumen car park conceals large storage tanks that collect all water runoff from the site, part of a “closed loop” system for treatment and reuse within the structure, including on the 2000 square metre urban farm on its rooftop.
Shoppers will park their cars in rows separated by fruit trees, effectively creating a suburban orchard that extends to the northern wall of the mall where 275 mature citrus trees are suspended, providing shade and fruit.
Other key features include a 1 megawatt rooftop solar system and a sawtooth roof – decorated on the inside with a large motif by indigenous artist Many Nicholson – with windows that can be opened to maximise light and fresh air flow.
The mall was designed to connect shoppers to nature on a variety of levels as soon as they enter, Frasers’ development manager Jack Davis said.
The solar array will provide 40 per cent of the centre’s energy needs, with the rest to come from off-site wind and solar facilities.
Produce from the already functioning urban farm will supply a rooftop restaurant, with both to be run on a lease and license basis by Sydney-based Acre Eatery.
Set to open next month, the Middleborough Road centre is located in the heart of Chisholm, the Melbourne electorate picked up by Liberal MP Gladys Liu in a tightly contested poll at the May federal election.
The Living Building Challenge certification requires Frasers’ new “super neighbourhood” centre to have a net positive impact on its site.
It will be monitored for a full year after completion to confirm it performs as expected before the certification is awarded.
“We will be the first globally, and the first development or shopping centre in Australia, to be certified,” Frasers executive general manager for retail, Peri Mcdonald, said. “If, and when, that’s achieved, that’s our vehicle to say this is the most sustainable shopping centre in the world.”
But that sustainability comes at an inflated financial cost, although it was still within the commercial feasibility for a similar non-accredited project, Mr Davis said.
“There’s definitely a cost to it. We estimate the cost to be about 10 per cent [extra],” he said.
Tenants in the building were also required meet rigorous standards for materials, waste and energy. Most are smaller, local operators who were willing to work to the standards required of the Living Building Challenge.
“We’ve got this system of tenants that care about waste, that care about the way they train their staff, the way they use water and energy more efficiently,” Mr Davis said.
The structure used recycled bricks on feature walls and recycled the plywood from concrete formwork into a feature wall and ceiling in a central travelator stairwell.
One of the most challenging aspects of the building process was testing and vetting all materials used in construction and removing anything with high levels of toxins.
“We’re actually thinking about health and toxicity and what it means for the people who are going to occupy it,” Living Building manager Stephen Choi said.
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