Changing the metrics of desirability: Melbourne’s Burwood Brickworks achieves momentous certification


Malls are temples to consumer capitalism, a system which – although extremely painful to admit – has propelled our current climate crisis. Unpopular as that fact may be, it makes Burwood Brickworks, an undertaking of Frasers Property, all the more important. To attempt to transform from the poster child of the problem into a poster child of the solution is a brave undertaking. It reframes not only what’s possible, and also what’s desirable.

Burwood Brickworks, in Melbourne’s east, is the first ever retail space to ever go after the Living Building Challenge Certification, which is the the world’s most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment. It is also the first retail centre to ever achieve it, albeit partially at this stage. (Full certification can only be achieved after 12 months of independent testing and was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected in late 2022.) 

The LBC is different from conventional green building schemes. It assesses a building on its entire environmental impact from the ground up, including all construction materials.

Frasers Property

The ultimate goal of the Living Building Challenge is to create a space that has a net positive impact on the environment, to build something regenerative rather than destructive. To certify this, aspects of the building are assessed in seven areas, referred to as ‘petals’ – invoking the imagery of a flower as a culmination of the elegant, circular design of nature.

They include:

  • Place (location)
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Health & happiness
  • Materials
  • Equity
  • Beauty

These metrics speak to a mode of climate action that is often downplayed because it requires nothing short of a complete revision of society’s central values. In a culture unashamedly governed by profits, the Living Building Challenge’s framework asks us to draw value from broader, more primal arenas. Beauty, equity, place, health – these are all vital aspects of not only buildings, but society more generally, yet all routinely made subservient to efficiency.

Good architects understand that how a space is designed inspires particular ways of thinking, behaving. Yet the demand for quick turn arounds and cut costs has left us with cities which are largely populated by buildings which could be described as slapdash at best, monstrous at worst.

When was the last time you went into a beautiful mall? I, for one, don’t think I ever have. Yet the enforced thoughtfulness of Living Building Challenge means in Burwood Brickworks careful attention has been paid to aspects that make a building not only better for the environment, but better for the people who move within it.

Burwood Brickwork

The shopping centre’s has as extensive 1 MW solar array is spread across the rooftop, equating to 3,260 individual solar panels. It is also home to a 250 KW battery (though the chemistry is unknown). This energy solution, combined with off-site renewable technologies, provides all the centres’ energy requirements with a surplus.

The centre also has a 500,000-litre water tank which sits in the underground car park. Rainwater is funnelled from the rooftop and the carpark to the tanks, and is then treated onsite for use in the centre. Treated water is used for toilet flushing, use in washing machines, cooling towers, car-washing and to irrigate on-site urban agriculture.

Produce from the farm is served at the Farmhouse Restaurant and Glasshouse café.

Frasers Property

The centre, which is 13,000 square metres, also incorporates a 2,000 square metre rooftop urban farm which is operated by acre Farm & Eatery and provides produce for its adjacent restaurant. Naturally, the centre also has composting facility on site.

Every material used in the construction of the building was assessed, sustainably sourced and salvaged materials have been used where possible. Likewise, no materials used in the construction of building contain chemicals listed on the International Living Future Institute Red List.

Living Building Challenge Certification

On Saturday, Frasers Property and its Burwood Brickworks achieved official Living Building Challenge Certification for the built aspects of the project – its Place, Materials, Health & Happiness, and Beauty Petals. The remaining three aspects – Water, Energy, and Equity – relate to the centre’s operation over time, and these have been impacted by Covid-19 trading restrictions and lockdowns. Before they can be award, these Petals must be independently audited based on 12 months of operational data. 

Assuming an undisrupted 12 months of ‘typical’ operation, Frasers Property is on track to achieve full Living Building Challenge (LBC) Certification by late 2022.

“This was a benchmark-altering aspiration that we knew would push us, and the industry, to create buildings that deliver a net benefit to the environment and the community. Reaching Petal Certification was certainly challenging and the pathway to achieve the remaining three Petals, and therefore full Living Building Challenge Certification, will continue to challenge us, as it should,” CEO of Frasers Property Australia, Anthony Boyd, said.

“The vision for Burwood Brickworks was to redefine sustainability in retail by challenging ourselves in new and uncomfortable ways. It meant exposing ourselves to possible failure, inviting new levels of scrutiny, balancing commercial feasibility, challenging our project partners to take the journey with us, and investing time and resources into working with our tenants, so they could play their essential role.

“We’re grateful to our family of retailers at Burwood Brickworks for embracing the LBC. For some retailers, the requirements of the LBC necessitated a complete re-imagining of their fit out and operations.”

For instance, the Woolworths in the centre has had to enclose all of its fridges as an energy conservation mechanism – just one example of the way tenants have had to shift their approach to earn a place in the project.

The centre also features a hydroponic glasshouse.

Frasers Property

Philosophical impacts

Regenerative building is a vital though often under appreciated tier of climate action. Equally, it is paramount to creating better, more beautiful cities and urban landscapes – ones which connect people to place rather than alienate them from it.

Frankly, language of mitigation, cuts, and reduction is uninspiring. Worse yet, it insists on a binary between humans and environment by suggesting  the environment’s gain is our loss.

Such an approach is not only detrimental, it’s false. Living more sustainability can and should mean living more beautifully, living in ways that answer urgent human needs including connection to place, to community, to beauty. It feeds our urge for self-sufficiency and autonomy, our desire to live healthily and happily and fairly.

The Burwood Brickwork is not only a massive undertaking and achievement logistically, it is also an equally important feat philosophically. It asks us to broaden the metrics with which we measure the world.

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