Ensuring a better built environment for all

by | Jul 22, 2022 | BCA legislation, Building design trends

We want to discuss how our business purpose, ‘ensuring a better built environment’, intrinsically links MBC Group to the process of design and construction, putting building compliance at the intersection of regulators, investors, planners, architects, developers, builders, and users.  

Sir Winston Churchill famously once said, ‘we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us’. The UK wartime leader had a penchant for good quotes, some of which remain in use today, like many of our historical buildings, they stand the test of time. Since humanity first emerged, we have been shaping our homes to influence and reflect us, while fulfilling the basic function of providing shelter from the storm. Most would agree that the built environment has a fundamental effect on our wellbeing, our life opportunities, and the sustainability of the surrounding environment. 

So what did Building Surveyors ever do for us? 

We are constantly surprised at how little our role is understood, which often leads to the familiar refrain levelled at the Romans (for any Life of Brian fans out there). We should try to address this right off the bat, so here is our explanation; 

  • Our building surveyors have been trained to understand and interpret building regulations, such as the National Construction Code (NCC), the role is significant and spans all property types 
  • Our building surveyors provide professional advice on both the design and construction of new buildings as well as the restoration of existing ones, while ensuring all plans are compliant with the appropriate regulations and being responsible for the safety of the building 
  • Our building surveyors inspect the design and construction process from the start, including issuing Construction Certificates right through to completion, the role is critical to the successful outcome of a development 
  • As accredited certifiers, MBC Group’s building surveyors can also be responsible for issuing Occupation Certificates that consider the safety and wellbeing of all users, if the OC is withheld then the building cannot be used until the surveyor is satisfied that it is compliant

We begin with the end in mind… 

As you can imagine, the building surveyor role is complex and, dependent upon what they are engaged as, can sit within a quasi-public official space (if engaged as Principal or Accredited Certifier, they are ultimately responsible to NSW Fair Trading, with statutory obligations and functions under the Building and Development Certifiers Act 2018, the Environmental Planning and Assessment (EP&A) Act 1979 and other legislation). Given this level of regulation and complexity for the role, let alone the detailed construction projects we are involved with, how does MBC Group approach the conundrum of private interests and public accountability? For us, every project is different, but our approach remains the same by always beginning with the end in mind. From our overall experience there is a collective need and desire from all stakeholders to achieve the best built environment, notwithstanding the constraints of time, budget, and regulations. It is clear to us that wellness and quality of life are critical outcomes for the leading participants, whether it is through policy, planning or product. 

Our project landscape – an ever-expanding universe 

Engaging architects or designers is often seen as something out of reach to most people, reserved only for those who can afford it, but this type of engagement represents only a small part of how we all live in an eco-system of design and architecture. Whether living in a multi-residential apartment block or working in a multi-storey office tower, we are consumers of architecture. Walking to the mall or catching the train to work, we consume public design and planning. As consumers we should all have a personal stake in best practice, demanding rigour and accountability in the creation of our environments. These are the minimum expectations that are placed upon building surveyors in both the private and public spaces we inhabit.  

We can see that Governments and regulators are finding better ways to position happiness, wellbeing, and sustainability at the heart of policy making. Our clients, such as developers, are embracing quality of life, community integration and affordability. The key trends we are seeing through our engagements are connected, localised lifestyles, wellbeing through better design, and greater alignment with government initiatives. Increasingly, we work with developers across all our market sectors who realise that there are opportunities for efficiency when they embrace the planning and reporting of social impacts and wellbeing, working with building surveyors from the design concept onwards.  

Post-pandemic, the workplace has been irrevocably altered with hybridised work weeks and the boundaries between the office and home completely blurred. Those spaces must now be flexible with the ability to change quickly for new purposes and to accommodate fluctuating staff numbers. In terms of building compliance this is most noticeable when we encounter retail and office fitouts which form a substantial part of our work. We need to be mindful of the number of users in any given space as this is regulated in the NCC, albeit indirectly through requirements such as fresh air, egress and sanitary. It is in these spaces, and most others, that we must consider fire engineering, safe movement, accessibility, health and amenity, while seeing the need for flexibility to ensure design achieves the desired outcome, which is made possible by the performance-based regulations of the NCC. 

How do we ensure a better built environment? 

In this century, our lives will be lived within increasingly high-density, urban landscapes. Over the last 150 years, a notable change has occurred; once humans were a rural species, but now over 50% of the world’s population lives and works in urbanised areas, and it is projected to reach two-thirds by 2050. At the same time, cities account for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume three-quarters of our natural resources. 

Against this backdrop, new government guidelines promote individual and corporate sustainability, well-being, and safety by better design. Rick Fedrizzi of the International WELL Building Institute calls this era the second wave of sustainability, which follows the first wave that began in the early 90s. This was when green buildings were starting to take off and the focus was around energy efficiency, water usage and waste. The Green Star performance tool is a result of this first wave of sustainability. Launched by the Green Building Council of Australia in 2003, Green Star assesses the operational performance of buildings against nine environmental impact categories: management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions and innovation. 

Since then, the way we work and the technology we use has dramatically changed. There are now opportunities to not only reduce our environmental impact, but also enhance people’s health and wellbeing. This is the focus of the WELL Building Standard™, which rates a building against seven parameters: air quality, water quality, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mindfulness. A guidance document that aligned Green Star and WELL was launched in 2017, with the aim of supporting building owners who are looking to boost the sustainability of their assets and support the health and wellbeing of their buildings’ occupants. 

This partnership means developers no longer must choose between health and sustainability when creating modern building designs in Australia. There has since been significant interest in the concept, with LendLease adopting WELL certification for its International Towers precinct at Barangaroo, and CBRE pursuing the certification for sites and offices around the world. One of the first Australian buildings to be certified was the heritage-listed building in Sydney’s Martin Place, owned by Macquarie Bank. Currently, Australia leads the world in the commercial office market with about 25 per cent of builds and fitouts now WELL-enrolled, spurred by employers wanting to support a return to the workplace.  

The NCC is a ready-made instrument to influence the operational energy use of new buildings and major renovations. In Section J, the Code regulates the building envelope and fixed equipment, including heating and cooling equipment, lighting, and hot water with the objective of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. As more companies understand the benefits of creating modern building designs that address the health and wellbeing of users, it is likely that changes to the NCC and relevant legislation will follow. We look forward to the evolution of the NCC, which is our main reference document with regards to building compliance. It provides the technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings and other structures. Without this type of overarching requirement alongside standards such as WELL and NABERS, ensuring a better built environment would be an almost impossible task. 

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