How the legacy of a late green building researcher lives on

In the early hours of 2 June 2008, Dr Graham Treloar—an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, the University of Melbourne—passed away after a spirited battle with cancer. He was 39 years old. He was my much-loved and admired brother-in-law.

The August 2008 issue of Green Building Voice shared an obituary remembering Graham’s contribution and helped the Faculty announce the establishment of the Graham Treloar Fellowship to support Early Career Researchers.

Several years have passed, but I’ve always remembered CEO Romilly Madew’s kindness and support, and the generosity of the Green Building Council of Australia members who made donations to the Fellowship fund. It gives me great pleasure to remember Graham’s work and share the stories of the bright young researchers your donations have supported.

Graham was an international leader in the field of embodied energy analysis, sustainable construction, life-cycle assessment and, later, embodied water consumption. His research was recognised internationally as a crucial contribution to these fields at a time when Googling ‘embodied energy’ would turn up New Age websites.

Graham was a mentor and Grant Shepherd for the Faculty. He worked particularly closely with early career researchers, an important group of younger staff who are building their own research careers.

To say what a loss it was to the University and to his colleagues, friends and family feels like an understatement and a cliché. But his work was incredibly important, with our society facing the challenges of climate change and resource pressures. And he was a really great guy.

Eight years on, I am seeing how the legacy of a green building researcher can live on.

Graham authored or co-authored 31 journal papers and 30 international refereed conference papers. Soon after Graham’s passing, his close friend and colleague Robert Crawford identified 130 citations to his work. His citations are now up to 2,395.

And over the years the Faculty has recognised seven Graham Treloar Fellowship recipients, and is about to award its eighth. The application of their diverse research means Graham’s legacy will indirectly touch even more lives, from improving sustainability and liveability in rural China to addressing the challenges of suitable housing for people with disabilities in Australia.

A few days before Graham died, Professor Tom Kvan travelled to Geelong where Graham was in palliative care to tell him of the University’s plan to establish a fellowship for early career researchers in Graham’s memory. It meant the world to Graham, and it continues to mean so much to his family.

The Fellowship provides financial support to an early career researcher to develop their career in their chosen specialty.

Graham would have been particularly delighted to see structural engineer André Stephan awarded a Fellowship for a project mapping embodied environmental impacts in the built environment. It builds on Graham’s own research and visualises the environmental investment contained in Melbourne’s entire building stock of about 13,000 buildings.

“Being a Graham Treloar Fellow means a lot to me on a personal level as I use Graham’s work almost every day in my research. I consider it an honour to be able to take Graham's work further,” says André.

The inaugural Fellow was geospatial ecologist and landscape planner Siqing Chen, who used his Fellowship to initiate a project on sustainability and liveability in rural villages in China. Several years on, this has led to research collaborations with leading institutes in China. This is built environment research that has humanitarian significance.

“One person out of 10 on the planet is living in a Chinese rural settlement. However, the global discussion about sustainability and liveability has disproportionately focused on urban settlements and until now circumstances have generally been neglected in the rural areas, particularly rural China,” Siqing says.

Fellowship recipient, artist, architect and researcher Stanislav Roudavski is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Architectural Design.

“The Fellowship enabled development of innovative research content and its successful integration into design teaching. The outcomes of this work have been exhibited internationally and discussed in design and academic publications,” says Stanislav.

Architect and urban designer Marcus White has developed ways to model the shade patterns of Australian trees. Previously, models for northern hemisphere species predominated. This will be an important tool for climate change adaptation planning.

“The Fellowship really kick-started a line of enquiry into urban design methods that bring together algorithmic botany with precinct modelling and visualisation technology in a way that can substantially improve the process of designing streets to produce more walkable, liveable and healthy environments.”

Urban and environmental planning researcher Ole Fryd used his Fellowship in a project exploring the role of blue (waterways) and green (vegetation) corridors in urban stormwater management in Melbourne, Australia; Kunshan on the Yangzee River Delta in China; and Lilongwe, Malawi. Ole recently returned to Denmark and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen.

For urban planning researcher Jennifer Day, the Fellowship provided an opportunity to explore the social sciences and broaden her ‘research toolkit’, adding to her skills as an econometrician.

“I’ve wanted to be both a builder of theory and a tester of that theory.  Statistical work allows us to test theory, but does not help us to build theory,” says Jennifer.

“The path has taken me through pre-modern, modern, and post-modern philosophy, seeking a framework for understanding how societies make important decisions about the boring and mundane components of our cities.

“This framework has come into my teaching. For instance, I now teach students not only how to understand the boring details of transportation models, but also how to critically evaluate them for their implicit assumptions about justice and rationality.”

Last year’s Fellowship was awarded to construction management and housing researcher Andrew Martel.

“The opportunity provided by the Fellowship will allow me to internationalise the research that I have been conducting locally into the National Disability Insurance Scheme, housing for people with disabilities, and innovation in Australia’s development sector. I am very grateful for the opportunity and hope that the research continues the legacy of quality, practicality, and public utility that the Fellowship has come to represent.”

In May, Andrea Cook will be recognised as the latest Fellow at the annual Dean’s Honours Awards. Her work encompasses both academic and practice-based research on a range of strategic planning, place-making, urban policy and community engagement topics.

Our family is deeply grateful to the University and the green building sector for honouring Graham in this way. It means so much, not only to know that Graham is remembered, but to know that these Fellowships are supporting young researchers with great potential who are working to provide the knowledge and tools needed to build a better world.

Thank you also to the people and organisations that have donated to the endowment fund for the Fellowship. The people briefly profiled above illustrate the valuable research you’ve supported.

We invite further donations to help endow it in perpetuity. Visit https://msd.unimelb.edu.au/support-abp, and click on the Graham Treloar link.

Tanya Ha is a science communicator, environmentalist, and an Associate of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute.