Burwood Brickworks, the world’s most sustainable shopping centre, opens its doors

Melbourne’s Burwood Brickworks, set to become the world’s most sustainable shopping centre, opened last Friday 6th December, making the start of the next generation of the retail in Australia.

Designed by NH Architecture for Frasers Property, the project goes against the trend of ‘mega-malls’ by compressing the plan onto a smaller footprint of land and, for the first time in Australia, sees an urban farm run on a shopping centre rooftop with up to 1,100 plants as well as a quail coop. In addition to the rooftop farm, innovative features at Burwood Brickworks include rows of lemon trees at the carpark, skylights and operable windows in each tenancy. The building generates 40 per cent of the energy required and recycles its own water. NH Architecture managing director Roger Nelson says the opening is a milestone for Australian retail and indicates the future direction of shopping centres across the globe.

“The project shows how smaller footprint shopping centres have a place in the Australian retail landscape and that the commercial property model behind this can work. Shopping centres are always looking for new ways to become relevant and one of the best ways to do that is to move towards sustainability and by offering a retail mix centred on community, entertainment and food,” he says.

Sustainability, in both the design process and finished product, gained increasing prominence over time and the team is now working towards meeting the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the most advanced measure of sustainability. “Sustainability and retail don’t generally go hand-in-hand and we are proud to play a role in breaking the paradigm of what traditional retail centres offer in their design and output that facilitates sustainable consuming. It’s easy  to lose touch with the physical and natural environment when you are in a shopping centre, in terms of the temperature, smell, air and lighting, and our work seeks to bring this back. What’s outside really is inside in this instance,” says Nelson.

Far from the traditional shopping centre, Burwood Brickworks doesn’t feature a carpark right by the road and instead is a 360-degree building without a front and back. “Our design solution involves original ideas that are steeped in fundamentals. We placed orientation first and the result is a sinuous shape to allow for more natural light and airflow into the centre. Public space for retail environments should be used better where rooftops aren’t ignored. We are sure that our design makes  positive contribution to the urban fabric of Burwood, which encourages people to gather and complements the adjacent residential development,” adds Nelson.

The project team relied heavily on ethical products and used Declare labels, transparent ingredients labels for building products, with Burwood Brickworks now the largest project in Australia to use this across all aspects of the building. “By using the Declare labels for every product and material, we are ensuring we are having the best possible impact whether it be through the manufacturing process or the resulting human exposure. Burwood Brickworks has enabled us, along with the builder and developer, to work together like never before in a bid to procure materials and manage a supply chain that requires the highest of sustainability standards,” he says. The concrete used is made from old bricks with the site using reclaimed timber, reclaimed bricks (from the former brickworks) as well as recycled and reclaimed finishes down to tiny details. Our focus was on a quality build and honest narrative rather than aesthetics and trends.”

“People absolutely love nature and the health benefits it affords them so it’s only natural that this is incorporated at an extreme extent into a shopping centre for the benefit of patrons and employees. Retail is the toughest building use to make sustainable but we are hoping that the initiatives implemented at Burwood Brickworks will encourage others in Australia and around the world to persevere and continue to find new solutions.” Nelson says.

NH Architecture has been involved with the site for over 10 years and engaged by Frasers Property on the project as the master planning, concept and project architect since 2014. The contractor, Hacer Group, has completed the construction of this significant project and has delivered on the high and exacting aspirations of the whole team. There has been an extensive consultant team contributing to numerous elements throughout the project’s lifecycle. Collaborations included interiors contributions from Russell & George and a significant permanent art installation created by Mandy Nicholson, an indigenous artist, through the Balarinji group, which talks of ‘Country’. The rooftop farm is to be run by Acre Farm & Eatery.

The project adds to NH Architecture’s Melbourne portfolio with the practice also behind the redevelopments of the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre and Margaret Court Arena, Myer Bourke Street, QV and the Cinema Complex at The District Docklands