Some commentators are saying that for its novel exterior a new building in Sydney has not been matched since the world heritage-listed opera house. The building was designed by a Japanese architect living in Sydney. Notwithstanding its striking appearance the building is also a ‘carbon positive’ dwelling designed to absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).
Named ‘Infinity’, the building was completed in May last year at Green Square, an area under redevelopment located 10 minutes by car from Sydney’s central district. The twenty-storey building is occupied by apartments, hotels and restaurants. But rather than being just another building in the mix of the city’s infrastructure the big ‘hole’ at its centre is a show-stopper.
Designed by Sydney resident and architect Koichi Takada (49), Infinity is cooled by the natural ventilation of the wind so that even in summer air conditioning is needed for the apartments on no more than four or five days a year.
The hole opens out to the north, the direction from which the sun shines in the southern hemisphere. When the angle of the sun’s rays is high in summer the building casts a shadow over the central courtyard of public space connecting with the railway station, but by contrast allows the sun to shine through in winter, when the angle of the sun is lower. The opening also creates an abundance of light for the apartments and the new neighbouring library built below ground level.
Koichi Takada explains that “by creating a hole the aim was to reduce environmental impact and throw open the building to the community”.
People can relax on benches or pass back and forth through the courtyard, which also provides access to restaurants.
Andre Katashev (49), who has just returned home from overseas after five years and was taking photos, is excited by the building: “I was really surprised when I saw it. It’s a fantastic design. It has such a hi-tech feel about it”.
The building is one of the central developments undertaken by Sydney City in the redevelopment as a residential area of a former industrial area that typically comprised flour mills and cement factories. The design was chosen through an international competition held between 2013 and 2014 and met with controversy within architectural circles. A local newspaper assessed the architecture as ‘visually offensive’.
Commentators say the controversy echoes the reaction when the decision was made for the unique design of the Sydney opera house in 1957. That design imitated shells or the sails of a boat.
Koichi Takada says, “When you do something new you invite controversy. A mistaken view is that the building began with its shape. On the contrary, the hole was whittled out through a dialogue with nature”.
After studying architecture in New York and London Mr Takada moved to Australia in 1998. He gained experience in a local architectural firm before going out on his own in 2008. Currently he employees approximately 50 staff.
Although he has often incorporated images from the natural world in his interior and exterior designs, typically trees or the ocean, , turning his hand to the Infinity building has led to his proposals for more innovative architecture. His wants to achieve a ‘zero-carbon architecture’ to tackle climate change.
One such project to start work at the end of the year is ‘Urban Forest’, an apartment complex in Brisbane in the east of Australia. The concept design involves a building covered in greenery. A total of 1,000 trees, planted on balconies three to five times their normal size, will absorb CO2 and create shade. Solar panels installed on the roof will provide the power for common areas. By offsetting Co2 emissions through absorption the entire building will be carbon-neutral with virtually zero emissions.
‘Sunflower House’, the design for a house released in November last year, imagines architecture for European countries such as Italy. Just as sunflowers change the orientation of their flowers by following the movement of the sun, so too the round roof mounted with solar panels rotates as it changes angle to receive maximum sunlight and produce electricity.
The floor below rotates by a separate movement. This creates shade inside the rooms in summer and allows the sun inside in winter, thereby dispensing with the need for air-conditioning. Any electricity left over is stored in batteries for external supply. This is a ‘carbon positive’ building in which CO2 absorption exceeds emissions.
In the context of the continuing move for the whole world to achieve zero net emissions by 2050 Mr Takada emphasises that neutral emissions will not be enough to make up for those resisting the challenge and so he wants to popularise this kind of architecture.
According to a United Nations Environment Plan (UNEP) report 38% of global CO2 emissions in 2019 were generated from consumption in buildings and houses and from building construction. There is an urgent need for the world to promote the more effective use of ventilation and lighting, and the production of electricity and its battery storage from the sun’s rays.
Data from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment also reveals that houses and buildings account for 31% of emissions (2019). In 2019 an amendment to the Buildings Energy Conservation Act required buildings with energy-saving capacity to have even greater capacity than before.
Professor of environmental architecture at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Deo Prasad, adds that “the question of a building’s life-cycle is also important”. Steel and cement building materials consume a lot of electricity at the point of production. He points out that there is a need to use recycled and alternative materials in their place.