‘Get on board and get into it’ says Kiwi green building trailblazer

05 September 2018

With the World Green Building Council's (WorldGBC's) Asia Pacific Regional Network Leadership Awards in Green Building taking place this week, we're celebrating a decade of our Green Star Accredited Professionals, with 52 trailblazers who committed to green building from the beginning.

One of the top luminaries in the industry reflects on what it means to be ‘green’, why green buildings are the future – and how the industry is driving sustainability.

Phil Smith, the principal of Collingridge & Smith Architects (UK) Ltd, is the only New Zealand winner of an international WorldGBC award. “These days, there is more industry recognition of the psychological effect of greenness – and that’s not just in terms of the quality of an environment inside, but also in terms of plantings indoors and outdoors,” he says.

With two entries from New Zealand in the finals in this year’s Green Building Awards, there is a possibility that Smith’s trailblazing efforts could be repeated. Auckland property developer Mansons TCLM is in the running for an award in the Better Places for People category, and Wellington’s Aorangi House is up for a Leadership in Sustainable Design and Performance award. The winners will be announced on 6 September.

Smith secured a Leadership in Sustainable Design and Performance award from the WorldGBC in 2014. He says it is up to architects, building owners and others involved in creating the built environment, to take personal charge of sustainability and tap into the generally increased awareness of the value of ‘green’ principles. “If you’re interested in sustainability and the built environment, I’d say get on board and get into it.”

Smith’s entry in the 2014 awards is Te Mirumiru, a bilingual childcare centre, which won out from a field of 57 projects from around the Asia Pacific region. WorldGBC CEO at the time, Jane Henley described the Kawakawa, Northland facility as ‘an outstanding example of a building that engages and educates children about their culture, customs and the environment…[it has] intelligent design that applies green principles from the outset’.

With passive environmental features including north-facing glazing, a super-insulated earth roof, rainwater capture, and a solar hot water underfloor system, all spaces in Te Mirumiru are naturally daylit and need no additional electrical lighting by day. Seventy percent more energy efficient than a similar code-compliant building, Te Mirumiru has a 6 Green Star rating from the New Zealand Green Building Council. This makes it one of just three buildings in NZ with such a high rating.

Smith says winning the award was ‘mind blowing’. “We were up against a starchitect’s tower in Singapore which has the world’s biggest indoor garden and we beat that! The community [of Kawakawa] was stoked, too, as it has given them massive credibility and one of the things we believe a building can do is to influence communities and have a bigger impact. That’s what sustainability, really, is all about.”

“It was the perfect project to represent New Zealand as it was about ‘sustainable community’, getting more into what the building did for the community from a social side of things, for the environment around it, in terms of people and the environment. We ticked all those boxes really well as it was a rejuvenation on the community’s culture, for them.”

It’s led to opportunities for Collingridge and Smith Architects, too, not only in the local market but abroad; Smith says the company has set its sights on the much larger markets of Australia and the United Kingdom. “I can see it taking off,” he notes, “Especially in childcare centres. You really have scope for creativity.”

Following the 2014 win, Smith was invited to judge the entries in the 2016 WorldGBC Awards in Green Building, an experience he describes as highly rewarding owing to the ‘pehnomenal’ calibre of entries.

His advice to aspiring green architects, designers, builders and building owners is to stick to one’s guns, drive the sustainability message and, to paraphrase Mahatma Ghandi, ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. “New Zealand has the green, clean reputation, but we don’t teach it, and if we don’t teach it, it isn’t going to happen. I learned to design a building like Kawakawa at the age of 19. If you believe in it and push it, if you educate clients and staff, you will lead the sustainability journey.”