SubStation No. 164

Unique city stories

Can a heritage building also be a sustainable building?

‘It’s not easy being green’ goes the saying, and nothing could be truer when it comes to the built environment. The property industry is responsible for 39% of all CO2 global emissions, 28% of which is associated with energy used to heat, cool and light buildings and the remaining 11% associated with embodied carbon from materials (Global Status Report, 2017)1. The focus has often been on how we create efficient buildings for the future that have less impact on the environment in their operation; however, now there is growing consciousness around the ‘upfront’ embodied carbon from materials and construction process.

Built has long been a leader in driving real change and creating a track record of embracing sustainability goals and targets on projects so we can reduce the environmental impact during construction and throughout the entire lifecycle of a building.

So much of our cities are already built and it is becoming rarer to work on a ‘clean slate’ project where you can start with first principles to create a sustainable building.

Clare Gallagher, Sustainability Manager at Built believes sustainability can’t be limited to new buildings.

“It’s imperative we lift the environmental performance of our existing building stock for our cities to become truly sustainable. Critical to the resilience and future proofing of our cities is our ability to seize the intervention moment on an existing building and make it sustainable,” she says.

Furthermore, demolishing and rebuilding isn’t sustainable and, more to the point, just not an option for so many of our beautiful heritage buildings that, while energy inefficient, are so integral to the rich fabric and history of our cities.

So how can you make a century old building created for another era, into a green building, that supports all the technological needs of today and tomorrow?

Built’s SubStation No. 164 at 183-185 Clarence Street is one such exciting example. The project will take two historic Sydney buildings and revitalize them through careful adaptive restoration and reuse into one of Sydney’s most unique boutique office buildings. 

After lying dormant and unused for decades, the two heritage buildings – a former 1909 spirit warehouse and the adjoining 1930’s electrical substation – will underpin a seven-storey sculptural glass extension designed by fjmt. Not only will it be eye-catching, but it is being built to leading sustainability standards with lower embodied carbon and healthier materials and to be an efficient building in operation.

The reuse of the heritage buildings and much of the internal building fabric, including elements of both exceptional and high heritage significance, is valuable not only for preserving their heritage but contributes to a significant reduction in the carbon footprint of the redevelopment.

“In addition to being textural, character-filled features that are rarely seen in architecture today, if we were to replace the brickwork, steel beams, and timber floors it would create an immense environmental impact” says Clare. 

“For example, we ‘ve been able to keep the original timber floors in the warehouse which have a unique timber truss detail on the underside. These timber floors were used as permanent formwork for the new concrete reinforced slabs which brought us up to today’s fire standards and enabled materials to be saved while also creative a beautiful architectural feature.”

The project will also completely retain the substation’s original 12-metre-high Machine Hall on the ground level which originally housed the rotary converters which changed Sydney’s DC power supply to AC, extending its entire length. This will be used to create a world-class cultural destination for community benefit.

From a life-cycle assessment study undertaken by Built, Clare calculated the value of retaining the heritage façade, floors and column structure to be a 24% reduction in embodied carbon compared to conventional construction.

Clare explains this will be further complemented by sustainable construction targets including using 100% Green Power during the building phase and a commitment to divert 90% of waste material during construction from landfill.

However, the retention of the heritage features belies the upgrades and smart thinking integrated into the tower which will make it a highly sustainable building. The project is targeting a 5 Star Green Star Rating and 5 Star NABERS Energy Base Building Rating which rewards the environmental and healthy design features implemented in the project.

“This includes a 100% fresh air ventilation system, healthier finishes with low chemical emissions, LED lighting, touchless and water efficient bathrooms and facilities like bike racks and showers that support and encourage office workers to cycle and run to work,” adds Clare.

“These energy and water saving features also have a lifetime benefit in reducing the building’s impact over its lifecycle. Through the design decisions we’ve made we estimate a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime.”

SubStation No. 164 will also be Built’s new headquarters and will target a 6 Star Green Star and Platinum WELL rating for its office fitout. A WELL rating is a more human-centric rating system that prioritizes building decisions which support the health and wellbeing of its occupants. It’s a rating often only considered for new buildings and Clare says Built is excited to show how the very highest level of WELL can be attained even in an existing heritage building.

All in all, SubStation No. 164 challenges conventional thinking about heritage buildings or even much younger existing buildings as future-proofed sustainable buildings and shows anything is possible with the right commitment.

“If we can do this on a heritage project like this one with incredible tight constraints,” Clare concludes, “every refurbishment and new build should consider what’s possible.”

About the project

Celebrating Sydney’s past, present and future, Sub Station No. 164 at 183-185 Clarence Street Sydney will include the restoration and refurbishment of these two historic buildings – 1900s warehouse and former electrical substation - with a seven level sculptural glass extension designed by globally recognised architect Richard Francis-Jones from fjmt.

Historical Image Gallery

SubStation No. 164 Image Gallery

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