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Is there too much glass in New Zealand architecture?

In the fourth installment of Auckland University’s Future Proof series, Jerome Partington, sustainability manager at Jasmax, attempted to answer that very question.

In the current climate of failed global climate change agreements, architecture can be the vehicle for global sustainability, Partington said. But right now, sustainability is in flux. It has “reared its challenging head” and cannot offer solutions using the models that created them, he said. It must also provide sustainable solutions that don’t create future problems.

In New Zealand, Partington reckons the problem comes down to the emphasis put on buildings, rather than the people in them. Historically, New Zealand has not been hot on insulation, but used an “adaptive thermal comfort” method: if it’s cold, put on a jumper. Not any more: if it’s too hot for the workers, put the air con on, if it’s too cold, crank up the heating.

Effective insulation is not being thought about enough in the architectural process. No one is doing post-occupancy feedback to check whether thermal modelling predictions have been met—an integral part of the design process.

The new NZI building has been celebrated by the NZGBC for slashing the average energy consumption of a building from 170kw.m2 per year to just 86kw.m2, but Partington says we should be aiming for 40kwm2. How are we going to get there? Partington suggested avenues to explore using glass as a starting point.

There should be an “integrated sustainable design process” from client to user, he said. The old paradigm of ‘window =’s light + view + excluding weather = cooling load’ must be thrown out. Windows need to be multifunctional and solar absorbing—a challenge to the design process. They should be partnered by flora (it’s not just a roof thing!), water harvesting, and provide a better aesthetic skin.

The current New Zealand focus of glass, Partington lamented, envelopes pleasing clients and shifting sustainability needs. But “she’ll be right” will not suffice, he says. Glass must be incorporated in a new focus that will achieve complete and lasting energy efficiency in the building industry.

NZI Centre, Auckland