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When Pixel became the first building ever to achieve a perfect Green Star score, it heralded a new era of sustainable infrastructure in Australia. Pixel, with its 6 Star Green Star - Office Design v3 rating and the highest ever Green Star score of 105, has proven that Australian buildings can demonstrate true world leadership in sustainable design.
"Pixel is a world first, not just an Australian first," Daniel Grollo, Grocon CEO, says. "We believe Pixel is truly the office of the future and one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. We hope it will lead the way in terms of carbon neutrality and sustainability for years to come."
Chief Executive of the GBCA, Romilly Madew, has welcomed Pixel as a 'green masterpiece' which has gone above and beyond the 'norm' in green building innovation. "This building will redefine the way buildings are built in the future. It is arguably Australia's greenest building, and possibly the first building of its kind in the world."
Small building big on ideas
Pixel is an attempt to deliver a prototype office of the future that tackles the issue of carbon head on. Whilst it is small, with a gross floor area of just over 1,000m2, it is packed full of innovative features intended to light the way for the sustainable building industry.
Its features range from the distinctive 'pixilated' sun shade system, which allows daylight to enter the office space while giving protection from glare and heat gain in the summer, to its more subtle aspects such as smart windows, which open on cool nights to flush the building with air and lower its temperature. No matter where you look in the building, there are cutting edge examples of sustainable design.
Speaking to Shane Esmore, Director and Principal Sustainability Consultant at Umow Lai, this comes as no surprise. "The aim of the project was clear from the start," he said. "Our objectives were to provide an example of the sustainable office of the future and to set a benchmark that exceeds all current-day sustainable office developments."
No Hot Air
The original brief for Pixel was that the building be carbon zero, meaning all of the carbon generated annually in running the building was offset by renewable energy. The reason for this, as David Waldren, Carlton Brewery General Manager, explains, is that "eventually Australia will get a carbon-constrained economy - there's no question about that. The development sector needs to address the fact that buildings are the second biggest emitters of carbon dioxide."
Not content with carbon zero, the project team undertook an investigation early in the design process to see whether the building had the capacity to deliver more savings and become 'carbon neutral'. The goal was to offset not only all the carbon used during the building's operation, but also the carbon embodied in the materials used in construction, through the use of renewable energy over a period of time.
They found that, by modifying the design and factoring in a 50-year life cycle, Pixel would deliver a net carbon benefit to the environment.
"Pixel delivers carbon neutrality on a building utilising reasonably traditional commercial building materials, and delivers that solution on a 250sqm site without requiring the provision of offsets from off site," explains Waldren.
The building's ability to produce all its power needs onsite makes Pixel truly unique. An extensive photovoltaic array on the roof, mounted on a tracking device to improve output by 40 per cent, and combined with the first commercial application of the most efficient 1kW wind turbines currently in production, allows Pixel to generate more electricity than it requires.
Daniel Grollo says that "any carbon emissions as a result of the building's ongoing operation are offset by renewable energy from photovoltaic panels on the roof, as well as wind turbines. Over time Grocon will offset all of the carbon that was generated in manufacturing and installing construction materials."
Setting a trend
Concrete is one of the most carbon-intensive products produced in the world, with Portland cement accounting for nearly 6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions every year. To reduce Pixel's concrete-related emissions, the project team worked for 12 months with Boral Concrete to develop a new structural concrete with significantly reduced embodied carbon and an emphasis on recycling.
The result is 'Pixelcrete', a special concrete which uses 60 per cent less cement and contains 100 per cent recycled and reclaimed aggregate. According to Howard Titus, Technical Manager of Grocon Constructors and in-house concrete expert, "up to 92 per cent of the weight of the concrete is industrial waste, recycled or reclaimed material."
Furthermore, the mix achieves the same strength as traditional concrete and can be used in the same way as traditional concrete. "We used Pixelcrete for the piles, groundworks, slabs and columns," Titus says. "And for the first time, we used plasticised concrete for suspended post-tension slabs."
The use of Pixelcrete earned the project full points under the concrete credit.
Green up top
Pixel features a combination of green spaces which are functional as well as aesthetic. Reed beds installed on the northern and western façades filter grey water, and also cool the temperature of the air before it is circulated through the building. With the exception of the wettest month of the year, this means no greywater waste will leave the Pixel site, and cooling-related energy costs will be greatly reduced.
Experimental beds of native grasses have also been planted on the roof to help control temperatures in the building. The aim of this is to reintroduce Victorian grassland species back into the Melbourne area. Due to their experimental nature, a team from Melbourne University will monitor the beds and experiment with variables such as grass types, appropriate soil mixes, and the impact of leached chemicals to determine the most successful combinations. The best results will then be transferred to other developments.
After rainwater falling on the living roof has been used to irrigate the beds, it will be captured and stored in tanks within the building. Once there, it will be treated by reverse osmosis to potable water standard and then distributed to all fixtures and fitting within the building.
In this manner, Pixel aims to be completely self-sufficient in all its water requirements.
A global hat trick
Pixel is also seeking to achieve record-breaking scores under both the US LEED and the UK BREEAM rating systems.
Under LEED, the environmental rating tool of the US Green Building Council, Pixel is aiming to achieve a Platinum rating, and is hoping that its unique mix of sustainability features will deliver it the highest LEED rating yet achieved anywhere in the world. Similarly, Pixel is to be rated under the BREEAM 'Bespoke International' tool, and is aiming to achieve the highest score yet out of the approximately 714,000 registered BREEAM projects worldwide.
With Pixel now at the forefront of the global sustainable building drive, it demonstrates how far the building industry in Australia has come in a relatively short period of time.
To show its innovative mettle, the project has claimed 30 innovations, despite knowing that only five points can be awarded.
The installation of small-scale vacuum toilet technology was just one of the innovations awarded. The technology, which is similar to a more sophisticated version of an aeroplane toilet, has been sourced from northern Europe where it has been developed for high-quality office and accommodation buildings. The system will reduce water consumption to an absolute minimum and help Pixel to maintain water self-sufficiency.
Another standout innovation used in Pixel is the anaerobic digester installed on the ground level. Comprised of a tank system which will hold all of the blackwater waste from toilets and kitchen facilities, the digester will extract methane from the waste. The gas harvested is then used to replace natural gas for heating and cooling the water system, while the blackwater waste remaining is sent to the sewer in liquefied form, and with reduced methane levels. This result means that Pixel both limits methane emissions and avoids the need for fossil fuel gas to boost the solar hot water system.
Under the Green Star rating system 75 points is the benchmark for a 6 Star Green Star rating. The Pixel building was awarded a perfect 100-point score, and gained an extra five points for innovation.
"When Green Star was first established, very few projects claimed or were awarded Green Star points for innovation," explains Romilly Madew. "Today, projects regularly claim Innovation points, and the Pixel building was awarded the full five innovation points for a range of measures, including its carbon neutrality and water self-sufficiency.
"The Pixel building is a clear example of the shift within the property and construction sector. Today, we've moved beyond the recognition that buildings are merely resource consumers, and are now working on ways to ensure buildings can be producers of resources," Ms Madew concludes.
Other ESD initiatives featured in the project:
- Cooling and heating provided by a gas-fired ammonia absorption heat pump/chiller, with an air-cooled condenser.
- High efficiency lighting with daylight control
Indoor Environment Quality
- Underfloor air distribution with individual occupant control
- 100 per cent outside air, at rates 150 per cent above code requirements
- Slab cooling
- Bicycle racks, showers and lockers installed for building users
- Close to public transport
- No car parking provided for the building
- Designed to have 100 per cent water self-sufficiency
- Low flow fixtures and fittings
- Zero GWP and ODP refrigerants
- Building façade designed for disassembly
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