Leaders of design thinking come together

Aspirations for the future of design excellence within the building and urban landscape were the topic of the day at the recent inaugural Illawarra Design Excellence Symposium.

Throughout the day architects, urban designers, developers, council planners and academics discussed people-centric design. Themes included sustainability, technology, health and wellbeing, and urban design.

A common thread within all presentations was the need to curb social isolation, which is becoming a growing mental and physical health problem for society.

Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) Senior Professor Paul Cooper opened the event discussing his experiences during the creation of the University of Wollongong’s flagship SBRC Building.

The SBRC Building is arguably Australia’s most sustainable building and to formally secure this title the building is currently being tested against the world’s most rigorous sustainability performance standard for buildings – the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

If achieved, the SBRC will be the first building in Australia with full LBC accreditation.

Senior Professor Paul Cooper

During his talk Professor Cooper spoke about the journey to design and build the SBRC and the accreditation processes.

“The SBRC Building produces more energy than it uses and captures, treats and recycles its site water, leaving a minimal footprint on the earth.

“It was the first 6 Star Green Star to be accredited in the Illawarra region and one of only a handful of such buildings in the Australian Higher Education Sector,” he said.

“The building includes a 160kW array of solar panels and an onsite rainwater system which help to achieve net zero energy and water performance.

“In addition, the environmentally safe and reused building materials contributes to the building’s sustainability.”

The Director of SMART Infrastructure Facility, Senior Professor Pascal Perez, then warned the audience about the consequences of not involving communities in the design and usage of Smart technology.

Senior Professor Pascal Perez

Speaking on a similar issue in UOW’s The Stand, Professor Perez advised  “the smart thing to do right now… is to stop, breathe, think, and then act”.

“There is a market-driven rush for all these smart devices and applications but, in many instances, the decision-makers haven’t given enough thought to the problems they want to solve,” he said.

“They haven’t been able to properly socialise their project with local residents. They cannot even articulate how these new technologies will provide long-term and direct benefits to these residents.”

Professor Perez argues the need to strike a balance, but says that ‘smart cities’ will become ‘fad cities’ if communities are not involved in the process.

UOW Marketing and Communications Coordinator Hayley Rodd said the symposium focused on a future where buildings and communities are designed with people, not just for people.

“I had the pleasure to work alongside the talented Deborah McGregor, our Innovation Campus team and Michelle Guido from Property Council of Australia to organise the Illawarra Design Excellence Symposium,” she said.

“Sustainability, disruptive tech, place making, health and wellbeing, and social justice were recurring themes throughout the event and it was truly inspiring to hear the passionate presenters speak on their projects which have made a difference to the lives of so many people.”