Is this the world’s most sustainable shopping centre?

The Living Building Challenge® is changing the face of the building industry. Here's how.

Emily Kratzmann
August 23, 2022
6 min read
A suburban shopping centre with solar panels and a garden on the roof, green spaces, and umbrellas.

The Living Building Challenge® looks at how buildings can be a vehicle for transformation, creating a world that’s socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative – and it’s changing the face of the building industry.

‘Sustainable’ and ‘green’ are words thrown around a lot these days, particularly in the building space. But the Living Building Challenge – facilitated by the Living Future Institute Australia – is doing more than just installing a few solar panels here and a bit of reclaimed wood there. 

“The Living Building Challenge® is the most stringent building certification in terms of sustainability and regenerative design in the world,” says Living Future Institute CEO Laura Hamilton-O’Hara. “It encourages us to think about what ‘good’ looks like in our built environments.”

Living Future Institute CEO Laura Hamilton-O'Hara. Image credit: Pete Dowson.

The Living Building Challenge® is inspired by nature, with the framework based around the idea of a flower. “A flower can generate all its own energy. It collects its own water. It doesn’t create any pollution. It’s equitable and beautiful. It’s suited to its context and place,” Laura says. “What if we could create buildings like that?”  

One of the most extraordinary examples of a Living Building project can be seen at Burwood’s Brickworks Shopping Centre. What started out as a design competition in 2016, through a partnership with Frasers Property Australia, has now been built in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. 

“When we embarked on this journey, no other retail development had ever attempted the Living Building Challenge®,” says Mark Gleeson, Executive General Manager Investment & Capital Transactions at Frasers Property Australia. “We set out to create a shopping centre which elevates the sustainable possibilities of new developments and contributes to the regenerative buildings movement. It was a benchmark-altering aspiration that we knew would push us, and its successful delivery proves that it’s possible to create buildings that can regenerate their environment, be completely accessible to the community, and be commercially viable.”

Constructed using plenty of reclaimed and recycled materials that are safe for all species throughout time (including an old Sydney Harbour pier that’s been turned into seating), Brickworks has a rooftop urban farm, solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system, and a saw-tooth roof that lets in light and air.  

The urban farm on the Brickworks' rooftop. Image credit: Frasers Property Australia.

“Humans are basically plants with more complicated emotions,” Laura says. “They need daylight and fresh air, and that sense of being able to understand what's going on outside – the weather, time passing – actually makes us feel quite safe psychologically. It feeds into our circadian rhythms – and no shopping centre really does that until now.”

The Frasers team also consulted with Wurundjeri-willam artist Mandy Nicholson, who created the beautiful mural representing Country across Brickworks' internal roof, asking her what effect her artwork would have on the senses. “The team at Frasers really looked at it in terms of biophilic design, like ‘What is Country? What did it sound like, smell like?’” Laura explains. “It sounded like the birds, and it would have smelled like eucalyptus. So every entrance into Brickworks has a soundscape and smellscape. You get that multisensory perspective of being in place.”   

Developments as ambitious as Brickworks don't come without challenges. They can take longer up front and require more collaboration. They’re more expensive. Sourcing materials can be challenging, particularly when working with recycled materials. “I’m often asked what the business case for sustainability is, but increasingly we can say: what’s the business case for not doing things sustainably?” Laura says. “There’s so much goodwill, opportunity and value to be gained from doing things regeneratively and with integrity.” 

The aim of the Living Building Challenge® is to show that, in building and development, anything is possible. “I think about it in terms of Roger Bannister, who ran the first four-minute mile, and Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon,” says Laura. “They did things that everyone thought were impossible, and broke open the human imagination. The Living Building Challenge® is about shifting perspective and creating ripples in the industry. Not every building will be a Living Building, but every Living Building will make every other building better.” 

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Feature photo supplied by Frasers Property Australia.

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