This morning as I got on the train to head to HubMelbourne‘s Coworking in the Lane, I met Ian Gardner of Wood and Grieve.  I’m so pleased. We only spoke for 3 stops but gee it was interesting.

He’s working on a building just around the corner from my house.  A building I watch and regularly fume at because they’ve left the lights on, again!  But they have a call centre on the top two floors – so it’s reasonable that they are operating then.  I’ll stop fuming about that.

I shouldn’t stop fuming about the poor design he also talked about.  That building was finished about 4 years ago, but its only 3 stars NABERS, despite being designed for 41/2 stars.  He described it as a building that was reasonably designed initially, but let down through the standard construction management process.  The facade looks promising, with good shading and reasonable glass – I guess we can thank BCA Section J for that.  But Ian says it’s very leaky and takes 2 hours at 100% to get the building warm on winter mornings.

Where does the council’s sustainable design assessment process fit with that – how do we make sure that the reasonably sustainable building that was designed, is the one that gets built?

Also, the mechanical services design is a VRF system.  It’s a pretty common low cost system and should be pretty good at managing the zoning in the building, to operate only when heating or cooling is needed in a particular zone.  But if you select a unit that’s too big you end up using a lot of fan power that isn’t necessary.

And here’s the bit that intrigued me.  Ian commented that the increased cost of refrigerants means that systems like this are unlikely to be installed in future.  On the other hand, I know that the governnment’s plan for the repeal of the carbon tax, has been discussed extensively on the Airah LinkedIn discussion group.  I wonder if that will change things again?  Based on the comments from others in the industry, they’re not keen to see the refrigerant issue go backwards – I hope they don’t.

Has it really been a year?

Ooops, long time no blog.

It hasn’t been a year, it’s been a year and a month or so.  It appears that I’m still paying the mortgage and eating, so it’s been moderately successful.

I’ve also found time to get gardening done and make stuff and start volunteering with Food Know How.

Each week i jump on a cargo trike, ride to two or three cafes, collect their food waste and empty the bins at the nearest composting hub. It takes about 2 hours and I get to ride a bike like this!

Food Know How cargo trikeIt’s great to get so personal with a sustainability measure I’ve spent so much time and effort advocating for.

In exchange for my time, each cafe I visit gives me a credit.  I currently have enough credit to take someone for coffee at Proud Mary.  Are you , or do you know an architect in that area of Collingwood? (there are lots!).  Cheers!

Fed Square East

Every Thursday when I check the tender page I look at the Fed Square East invitation for Industry submissions and I think, ” I wish there was some wild and crazy thing I could come up with and gather a grass roots movement around.  Something so weird, but public minded that it might just work”.

According to the website there is 2.3 hectares of railyards and one hectare of carparking.  (Yep, those cars are so important that we use 10 000m2 of prime inner city land to store them.)

It’s here –

View Larger Map

Some things I’m inspired by for the site:

  1. Every person in Melbourne buys 1m2 and we make it an orchard with viewing windows into the railyards below.  Maybe groups of friends or families could “own” a tree or three.
  2. A maze of linear park bridges, inspired by the Highline park in New York. Lots of different walking bridges above the railyards with views of the trains.  Maybe it could start/finish on the corner of Exhibition St and Flinders Lane so you could avoid walking up or down that steep hill between Flinders Lane and Flinders St.
  3. Build a real co-educational inner city high school with a school oval along Flinders St so everyone knows it’s there. (My local high school is a girls school, so there are mainly boys in the other “co-ed” schools, that’s what I mean when I say “real”)

Anyone else have a better idea? Tweet it to #crazyfedsquareeast





What I’m good at

It’s been a bit hard this week.  I haven’t had work fall into my lap as it has for the past 4 months and I have my first slow to pay client.

It’s also been good.  It’s been an existentialist week where I’ve had the space to ask; what am I doing, is it what I want to be doing, what do I like doing  and what do I need to do to do more of the stuff I like?

I thought today was going to be more of that, with a bit of an assessment I’m finishing and then organising a roast dinner for my friday night crowd. But I got a phone call from an old client who was nice enough to spend some time talking about the impact I had in dealing with them and the strengths that I brought to the projects we worked on.  Things like;

  • I’m good at Green Star, I really “know my stuff”
  • I’m really confident in talking to people and communicate well
  • I’m good at teaching people
  • I have a really broad general knowledge about buildings and their systems

He also made some good suggestions about marketing these skills and the work that would be a good way to develop the relationships I need to do more of the work I want to do and am good at.

Yeah, the past 6 months have been a good way to dip my toe in the water, but I think I need to enunciate what I want to do more clearly, and then I need to remind myself of it regularly and not get sidetracked into doing things just for the money  – it needs to build on my vision too.

Perhaps I’ve stepped I’m stepping up to the next level of self actualisation?




Public Transport and starfish

I’m a GreenStar Assessor.  I’m also a public transport geek and there’s nothing I find more frustrating than submissions that miss out on points because the GSAP can’t use public transport as efficiently as I can, unless it’s projects that don’t use the Building User Guide to encourage people to catch public transport and ride bikes.  Often it’s both, and then I start ranting, see below.

I think at this point I should also say that I’m a true believer.  Transport is one of the most significant greenhouse gas impacts people have and I believe that people who are working in the sustainability field are in it to save the world.  For me, if you don’t use public transport regularly, and you’re not riding a bike, you’re not really trying hard enough.  (Yes, I know, I appear much more forgiving in real life, but really, I’m judging you.)

Last week I went to South Morang for a site visit.  I have a theory that if you take a bike and a train you can get to most places in Melbourne within 20min longer than the same car journey will take, but you can read on the train so it’s worth it.  According to google maps, my South Morang visit would have taken about 35 minutes.  By train and bike it took about 50min and my theory holds.

Anyway, here’s how to get the maximum available points out of the commuting public transport credit for a building:

  1. Look up the building location using a map that shows all the nearby bus routes, tram routes and train stations.  In Melbourne the best of these is the Melways.
  2. Make a note of every transport option within a 1km radius of the site and look up their timetables.
  3. Discard the ones that have a travel frequency greater than 30min.
  4. Read through the timetables to identify every destination within a 15min travel time, particularly looking for shopping centres and train stations.
  5. Look up those destinations in your mapto identify buses, trams and trains that connect to your primary travel routes.
  6. Follow the instructions in the GBCA Transport Calculator Guide

So now you fully understand the public transport available nearby, COMMUNICATE IT TO THE BUILDING OCCUPANTS!!!  It’s great to get points for the location of the building, but what’s the point if everyone drives there?  Ideally, every building users guide includes a map showing the location of each bus, tram stop and train station, with notes about their final destination and what services that primary mode connects to.  This information should be included even when the project doesn’t get any points for the commuting credit – maybe people can combine a bike with a train that’s 3km away, and you could be the one who made the difference and got that car off the road.  That’s how I save the world, one starfish at a time.


Getting up to date with my social media reading

Work has been great since January.  I’ve been busy and interested and earned enough to pay the bills, but some of the stuff other than the next deadline has fallen off the to-do list and it’s time to get back on.  Also, work is a bit quiet at the moment so I need to attend to business development.

Today has been all about catching up on my professional reading and social media.  I’m now up to date with reading Twitter and the associated articles of interest;

And I’ve also read the Fifth Estate.  My favourite article there was a lovely critique of standard energy auditing practice and the impact you can have when you look further than just the energy consumption and start asking “why?”.  I also had a read of;

  • Getting tenants to take on NABERS – this one is dear to my heart right now.  My business development push is to take advantage of the rebate available for tenants to get a NABERS rating.
  • Trigen project in Sydney – I’m a bit ambivalent about these projects lately.  I’ve been following BZE’s critique and some of the Coal Seam Gas issues and starting to feel like trigen is an outdated technology that could be responsible for some nasty sustainability outcomes.  OTOH, I don’t really have a good handle on precinct based, metropolitan, distributed generation, renewable alternatives.  So maybe we can just hope that coal seam gas isn’t being used for these systems and spend some serious research time working out good sources of biogass.  Oh, and energy consumption reductions!
  • Changes to the PVC credit in LEED.  Interesting for how it seems to have been handled here is Australia.  It reminds me of the controversy around the GreenStar timber credit.
  • Following a link from the Fifth Estate, I had a quick read of the NAWIC What Women Want in a Construction Career discussion paper.  Hmmm, I think they’re on the right track but they seem to have left out my favourite suggestion;  Make it easier for men to have careers and be carers.  If more men in our profession worked part-time, or left work early to pick up children from childcare, or took 6-12 months off work for parental leave, then the entire workforce (and their families) would be better off.  It would develop the structural change needed to encourage more women to do this interesting and rewarding work.

LinkedIn provided me with a new blog to read.  I got sucked in by the title, “Freerange working“.  The blog post was just a report on the latest workplace design fads, but I was interested because I’ve been living it for the past few months and thinking about how to make this model work for a larger practice.  I don’t want to work on my own for the rest of my life, but I’m really enjoying spending the day in bed, or the couch, or the kitchen table, or at the library or my mother’s apartment.  If I get an employee (one of my business goals) how do I get good value out of them, support them and give them the opportunity to work from bed too?

Then I went to the GreenCities 2013 website to see if videos of the presentations were available like they were last year,  but was disappointed to find that they’re only available to delegates.  So I rang the GreenCities organiser and suggested that they run a low cost movie night with the presentations.  That seemed to be received well.  I hope I can afford to go.  Briana did point out that there are some presentations coming to Architel and certainly, there are some from previous years that I’ll look at soon.

I’m sure there’s more to read and comment on but perhaps I’ll do some (other) work now.




Lately I’ve been noticing expressions of power, the way people interact and behave and how it manifests in getting stuff done and how easy or hard it might be.  Look, they might just be coincidences, but I guess I experience a bit of a double whammy when it comes to having to assert my power in situations – I’m both a woman and an ESD Consultant.

Here are a couple of power interactions I’ve had recently;

  • I went to a conference and ended up talking about babies or my holidays instead of the conference topic.
  • I sat on the edge of a meeting instead of at the centre (a common trait amongst women)
  • I offered to go last at a meeting and then missed out on discussing my report with the decision makers because they left to head to another meeting (that’s powerful, “we’re too important to stay to the end of this meeting”) – I’m not doing that again!
  • I handed out business cards, but some of the other attendees didn’t reciprocate.
  • I missed out on car-pooling with a decision maker when 2 cars were needed and I offered to keep the other driver company. ( I like to think that mostly means I’m not an arsehole)

I’m not complaining, I’m thinking about it so I can be more aware of the power stuff that might be going on – so I can choose a response that works best for me while maintaining my values.

I’m off on holiday tomorrow.  See you after Easter.




Long time no write

But I’ve been busy!  With real projects!  As usual, I need to balance the business development stuff with the getting stuff done…

I paid a lot of money for my insurance, but it means that I can work as a mechanical design engineer – something I’ve been missing for the past several years.  But now, as I’m writing fee proposals, I’m realising that projects frequently employ a mechanical AND electrical engineer from the same firm.  I think I need to find a creative way to solve this problem AND maintain my delightful kitchen table based work lifestyle. (Not telling you about the other places I work).

Ideally, I will find an electrical engineer who works like I do and we can cooperate.  But I’m not holding my breath on that option.  My other thoughts include;  working with an electrical contractor who can do the design work and I can do the lead consultant (note; not frontman) work, or working with another small firm who might already have mech and elec engineers and they could also do my mech drafting.  Again, I would be the lead consultant and attend meetings and review stuff.  I’m good at that.  If you are one of these people or know someone, please drop me a line/email.

Also, I should be organising to have “coffee” (stupid phrase, I don’t drink coffee) with people.  If you think you’re someone I should have coffee with, please send me an email suggesting a date and time.  I’m sort of crap at making that first phone call, but I’d love to talk to people 🙂

Climate adaptation – what are you doing?

Prompted by this string of articles and today’s weather, I’m thinking about climate adaptation – my own, yours and our clients.

Actually, I started last night when I pre-cooled the house by leaving the doors and windows open.  Today the doors were closed when I notice the incoming temperature (estimated from the ground level thermometer I have in our major cross draft) started rising. And now that the north facing family room and kitchen is getting warm I’ve withdrawn to the south side of the house where the curtains are all closed.  When it starts getting too hot in here I’ll turn on the fan.  Obviously, I’m already dressed for the weather (one of the joys of working from home).

I don’t need to modify my behaviour very much today, although I won’t go out and garden or do any outside work this afternoon.  Last week when it was forecast to be hot I re-arranged a meeting time to the morning so that it was cool enough for me to ride my bike there.

Actually, I don’t need to consciously modify my behaviour in the heat.  The first article talks about lethargy:

Lethargy is another physiological response to avoid overheating, acting as a disincentive to maintain physical activity.

Yep! I get that!

I once worked in an office without airconditioning.  In the three years I was there, there was only one day where the ceiling fan was inadequate and I went home.  Even then, I’d worked most of the day, so really it was only a few hours lost to the heat.

Using that nifty climate analysis tool Noy showed me the other day,  (although I’ve done it other ways too)  Melbourne’s historical weather data shows that the temperature is above 27o C only 4% of the time.  I know that our buildings are often hotter than the outside temperature, but I reckon we should be able to modify our work behaviour so that we don’t need artificial cooling.  Things like;

  • changing work hours – start early, nap in the heat, then work some more
  • doing quiet work when it’s hot and active work when it’s not
  • finding naturally cooler spaces to hang out
  • wearing climate appropriate clothing
  • using fans, wet cloths and showers

How do you adapt to the weather? How can we persuade clients to adapt their behaviour, rather than their environment?

Time to tidy up!

Wow!  Friday already and I’ve been back at work for two whole weeks.  Even if I weren’t counting I would know its Friday because my work practise; papers, to do lists, emails etc, are everywhere!  It’s time to tidy up!

  • I need to review my to-do list (I’m a bit lost, it must be Friday)
  • I need to file my emails (what? I have enough emails that I’m losing them – what a good problem to have!)
  • I need to backup my computer (what? I’ve done enough work lately that it would be a complete pain to lose stuff – what a good problem…)
  • I need to upgrade my wordpress installation to the latest one (shhh, don’t tell the hackers)
  • I need to sort out/do my business development (pushed to the backburner a bit, while I get some paid work done – what a good problem…)

I’ve installed a lot of new software onto my new laptop this week.  It’s interesting to do, because I’m doing it as cheaply as possible and I’m having to work out how to do things I would normally do as easily as falling off a log – convert pdf’s to jpg, insert pages into a pdf, measure other people’s drawings, draw up shading etc.  Here’s what I’ve installed;

  • Gimp (processing pdf’s into formats I can use and modify)
  • Foxit (reading pdf’s and measuring too)
  • Sketchup (the free one, when I really need it I’ll download the pro version with 8 hours free use, and then I’ll probably pay for it)
  • Autodesk Trueview (transition software until all of my drawings are in sketchup)
  • I’ve also had a good time with solar tools.  (Good enough that I will probably make a contribution.)

I guess it’s in keeping with my philosophy about power tools;  The first of a type of tool I buy will be the cheapest I can get – if it breaks I’ve obviously used it enough to justify spending on a good one.

Hey!  No-one’s gotten back to me about that fabulous opportunity I talked about last week.  Maybe this week?