Evaluate before you begin

I took a webcast journey to Toronto, Canada this week to the Grey to Green conference.  Despite the obvious dis-benefit of missing out on the valuable social interactions at an international conference, it was a valuable experience.  How so? My valuable and limited expenditure of time was the main driver for not jumping on the next A380 to LAX .  I weighed up the costs, the content, the potential networking and the opportunity to extend the Toronto trip. Why go so far and no go on to numerous North American project sites to increase the depth of the experience.


After evaluation of the costs and benefits in my mind, I did the same evaluation on the webcast option, the relatively minor costs, the late nights, the value of keynotes and specific program streams.  The comfort of my own environment, the ability to continue to work and service commitments to my clients.  We all do this when evaluating options.  It’s a natural process.  We rarely document it unless we are trying to convince an authoriser of the benefits of one option over another through the ‘business case’.

When it all boils down, the content was my key driver, so I heavily weighted it and the webcast option won.  I paid my cash, set up the headphones on the desktop and watched the keynotes with weary interest at the end of a busy week in Melbourne.

Was it worthwhile?

YES! It was an extremely valuable experience.  I came away from the webcast with the same driving enthusiasm as I would from a conference in person.  I wish I could say I was overwhelmed by all the speakers.  About 30% of content rang bells with me.  Thats fairly standard.  My best in show was a presentation from a fellow landscape architect, Barbara Deutsch, FASLA, Executive Director, Landscape Architecture Foundation, Washington DC. To many of you the topic might appear dry. The design driven title “Beyond Form and Function: Integrating performance-based design into Beautiful Practice” …..The title provides some insights into the content.  A collaborative effort to pull together all the sustainability evaluation tools for the landscape. Barbara’s take home message was ” Evaluate before and After”.

Is this a set of tools that will be applicable in the Australian condition? In the absence of our own set of tools and a method for recording I believe it is time to evaluate.


For over a decade now we have been able to design and measure building performance and demonstrate value, award success and strictly manage the new building stock that is hitting our streets.  Isn’t it time we were able to do the same for landscapes with a standardised tool across the continent.  We are blessed by this work by FASLA, the Landscape Performance Series will take the value of green space form nice to have to must have green infrastructure for many clients.  The key is demonstrating value in Landscape assets.  Intuitively we have all known of the aesthetic pleasure, the probable health benefits, the urban cooling, and many other environmental value adds.   Now we should and must demonstrate the value, identify the key objectives and demonstrate how design has achieved these and any had data based value adds. For example, when we can measure a restorative value in a workplace enhancement project, we should record a social measure against the triple bottom line.

With the advent of  this new toolkit we can now add the valuable measurement and evaluation of environmental, social and economic benefits.  I’ll be talking to my Australian Institute of Landscape Architects colleagues to see how far along we are.  I hope to be able to share with our clients the true value of their contribution in all their Living Architecture initiatives.

Photo of the University of Toronto green roof Sandy Nicolason

Our Autumn Sky is a message from next summer

May has the best sky. I am never disappointed when I look out over a project and reflect on the beauty of the Autumn sky in Melbourne. A key ingredient of the built environment is undoubtedly the natural landscape.  Whatever aspect of the natural ecosystem that is borrowed should be enhanced. All of our Living Architecture projects, are on structure, either walls or roofs, and all take advantage of the sky.  At this time of year the pale blue backdrop that spans over our landscape is a reminder of the role our projects play.   To shield from the more intense elements of the extreme seasons.  Our part of designing quality shelter with enhanced integration with the natural world.

I can’t explain why a May sky overwhelms me every year.  Perhaps it’s the never ending Indian Summer mixed with the promise of a cold blast. Even some of our indoor projects come with a glimpse of sky. This 20m² vertical garden has been an amazing demonstration of our new system that saves water and provides a drip free low maintenance vertical garden for indoors and out. The water efficiency aspect of this system is a key difference with all other vertical garden systems.  With our climate turning to less favourable water availability again, we are confident if you install this system it will be the most sustainable choice available to you.

The use of our blue horizon in design can capture the inherent beauty of the Australian landscape. This landscape on a roof in Croydon has a unique story and it is enhanced by its strong connection to the sky. They have numerous solar installations and are currently preparing for battery storage in the near future. It is undoubtably the most sustainable home I have had the pleasure of working on. The owner / occupants have a keen eye for detail and a passion to limit their impact on our planet. This curation of environmental nous and modern design principles is very easy on the eye.

As the summer season tails off slowly this year I am reminded that Autumn is the critical time to plan and design building projects for next summer. If you need a project built next spring or summer contact us at Coolth.inc now to discuss how we can help you with design and construction of your living architecture needs.  When all the technical challenges are out of the way, a construction project for next summer will be possible if you commence design now.


With the New Jonses

We made acquaintance with a network of like minded business owners last year.  We wouldn’t be here without the annual effort by the wonderful Tamara DiMatina @trumpetpr who is the brains and the manager of The New Jonses.  A Tru believer in treading lightly. The family business of modular home builders from Wonthaggi @ecoliv are the backbone to this project with their substantive Modular home pictured below with our Green Roof in the modular MEP system for @Elmich supplied by @KHD.

Out front parked in the driveway, that is the City Square, is the innovative folk @BMWi3 who have helped us participate across the whole yard. It is an amazing project with amazing people showing us all how to lessen our impact without missing out on quality. 

Drop in and see us over the next few weeks at the City Square and tell your friends about us at Coolthinc.com.au

1 not out. 

Today marks a year from the day we started something different.  This blog was the first step in sharing our experience. Writing about the owner builder experience tought us that there is an appetite for our knowledge and experience. Our focus over time became our area of expertise in green roofs and vertical gardens. Firstly researching and then designing and ultimately building this into our lives. 

I wanted more than the warm fuzzy feel of altruism that comes with investing time in water and green infrastructure policy and knowledge development. After 10 years working and changing the demand for green infrastructure, an opportunity came up that meant leaving that all behind. While I had always been involved in helpin grow this new industry.  It became obvious it was now time to leap in. 

The plan for a Living Architecture design and construction business took shape over the past year. Now we have three hard working staff and an office. We have also managed to complete a bunch of projects which you can experience on our new website

It is great to be able to showcase all our projects, to celebrate our successes and share that with new and prospective clients that come from our close and switched on referees. We are eternally greatfull to those who have supported us in this first year and look forward to helping others do the same when they need it.  

Being there at the very beginning of a start up company is an exhilarating experience. The days are packed with learning, experiments, and a constant mantra of investment wisdom.  Minimum.  Lean has been our guiding philosophy, learn first then do.  It has meant that two other key areas of focus have emerged, education & & knowledge. These sit week with our daily behaviours and complement the design construct and maintain businesss centres.  

We have benefited from the technical know how of academics who are transitioning to work with us, as well as trusted trades and builders who all show up to do something different. It makes design a breeze when the skills of those used to the traditional form and function of buildings transitions well to new and uncharted ways of building more sustainable buildings integrated with landscape.

Thanks for being a part of our journey weather you follow the blog, have referred people our way or have change your direction from the knowledge or experience we have shared. 


Sultry Summer Sofar

The benefits of green roofs just keep on rolling in after you realise the initial value.  Much of my time these days is spent lapping up the beauty of the space.  It is inspiring to turn the corner on the last step on my way up and see a new episode of flower burst or flush of green growth.  The summer evenings have been spectacular so far with perfect growing conditions forcing maximum outputs from this amazing suite of Australian green roof species we selected.

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Coolth.inc goes live

This has been a massive first week in business.  We launched a new product last weekend at a local event.  Vegiewall is a vertical garden system delivered to your door by Coolth.inc.  We just love designing and installing green walls when they are as delicious as this.  We will even look after the wall for you if life gets too busy.

Vegiewall herb or green smoothie wall for indoors or outdoor walls.
Vegiewall herb or green smoothie wall for indoors or outdoor walls.

Please drop by the website at Vegiwall.com.au and comment or call us if you just can’t wait to install one.

Future CEO Leni Edwards

I had a terrific day today passing on the green bug to my little girl Leni who just seemed to know how to run this caper.

Adaptive reuse inside and out

The human race is growing cities to extraordinary and often perverse extremes.  Many international cities are experiencing urban footprint growth that is coupled with near zero population growth.  This phenomena results in excessive energy use in the construction and operation of our built environment ultimately resulting in burgeoning GHG emissions.  So if we must build bigger cities, how can we take a more sustainable approach to building material selection and surface finishes that ameliorate and adapt to the impending climate nightmare?

There is no doubt that we are causing irreparable damage yet we will do worse if we despair.  The aim must be to design human ecosystems for human benefit and ecological benefit. The impact from destruction of natural systems and the ecosystem services they provide and replacing them with our concrete and glass cities is an unsustainable microclimate in our cities.  At the local level the thermal mass of our cities and their urban canyons heat up under extreme conditions, often holding nigh time temperatures over 5 degrees warmer that the suburbs.  This impact is arguably complex yet easy to manage in the context of green architecture.

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They are beginning to take action on the Urban Heat Island phenomena down at City of Melbourne Town Hall, employing the first ever Chief Resilience Officer.  The target for this role is reported to aim at bringing the urban ambient temp down by 1% with an aim to reduce heat wave mortality by 30% (pers. coms).  A bold a noble cause for all city dwelling humans out there.

The urban planners recently completed research indicating the humble trees in our streets are the primary mechanism to reduce the microclimate daytime ambient temperature by 1 degree in the public realm.  This has convinced the design team to plan a distributed urban forest that will maximise shade, allow ventilation at night and employ water sensitive technologies to support trees and become our cities natural evaporative coolers.

For all our commercial and residential designers out there it is time to pitch in on the other side of the lot line.  Cooler and less energy consumptive construction is the role of todays architect.  The practice of biomimicry and the adoption of an ecosystem services philosophy will assist us to make our built form more like a tree.  The benefits of this approach lie in careful external and internal material selection. The driving principles of reuse, reclaim restore and recycle offers a useful mantra when working in this space.

The principle of materials reuse on renovations is a worthy and rewarding cause yet an extraordinary under valued proposition.  It is a bold endeavour to aim to repurpose materials on site from existing structures as they make way for the new building or renovation.  To go further and up-cycle to an equal or better use than before is challenging yet rewarding if achieved. At the waste end of the cycle most material leaving site should be transported to recycling facilities ensuring very little materials are going to landfill. Another change in philosophy is to ensure material specification seeks recycled materials in new building forms.

In my experience designing and building a 7.5 star renovation in Cremorne Victoria explored adaptive reuse at every turn. The demolition began with sorting all materials for disposal to recycling facilities. We reused our 5 year old kitchen and wardrobes, harvested all reusable timber and kept the original front cottage with minimal modification. The principle of up-cycling often played out on the project.  This is particularly true with the Oregon beams found in the lean-to of the old house. The most difficult element of this recovery for reuse was the storage while we waited for the day of reuse in a shade structure on the green roof.  With demolition and storage behind us the task of sustainable material procurement began.

As the building emerged from the ground the slab was the first reuse experiment.  A green concrete mix with additional reclaimed aggregate and cement replacement with slag from the iron ore smelting process.  For interior fit out we went to great lengths on sourcing sustainable insulation and plaster. These choices were not always as they seemed.   Insulation from recycled glass was easy to procure once we were aware it was a choice and interestingly much safer to install than traditional glasswool. Plaster is another challenge. Many products offered recycled content however it was equal to the extra 3mm of plaster in a commercial board and not available in domestic 10mm plaster at the time. As time goes on more recycled materials will enter the market, and  the subsequent growth in choices will mean better outcomes for us all.

Our most extreme reuse occurred in the garden. During our construction we discovered that a research project had ended & 4 tonnes of green roof soil was heading for landfill.  We weighed up the impact of a non-sterile soil and the potential hydrophobic nature of a soil that had been through the Black Saturday heat wave.   Our philosophy on reuse was so strong we stepped in to divert the scoria substrate from waste to our roof.  We rescued the packing sheets that came with our colourbond cladding and built the back fence entirely from waste.

Designers must also address the sustainability of materials used in the operation of our buildings.  Designing to maximise reuse will provide a myriad of benefits for the occupier and environment. Water on our site is contained to less than 12 days a year of runoff, mimicking pre development conditions.  The rainwater is reused more than once, passing through our roof garden, then ground level raingardens and ultimately rainwater tank.  The tank double as a summer plunge pool and holding tank for irrigation and toilet flushing in winter.  In this landscape water is the integrating element.

Adaptive reuse is a key principle in the way we have developed the Coolthinc philosophy on design through innovation and sustainability.  It is clear that we need to be smarter about embodied energy and reduce the impact of our built environment on the local and global climate.  The more we do to reimagine materials and turn to adaptive reuse the closer we will be to sustainable built environments.

Living Architecture Systems

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