The People Project - Prasanna Suraweera, Wood & Grieve Engineers

How do you take a heritage building and turn it into an exemplar of global sustainability? Wood & Grieve Engineers Sustainability Section Manager, Principal, Prasanna Suraweera walks us through the transformation of Old Perth Boys School, now part of Curtin University.

What was your role in the transformation of Old Perth Boys School?

Sustainability Project Engineer.

Who else did you work with?

In the first instance, we worked really closely with Curtin University and National Trust to figure out what was possible.  Once our approach was agreed, it became a team effort with the design team and the builder working together to deliver on the promises.

What was the most exciting aspect about working on this project?

I met the client on site for my first introduction to the project. The site was in such a raw dilapidated state, but talking to the client and architect, their vision and passion for the project was quite infectious.  I loved the idea of rebuilding the space and bringing it back to life all while doing so in a sustainable way.

What were some of the biggest challenges?

Definitely working with an existing building. Having worked on a few heritage sites, it certainly needs a shift in mindset. A lot of the business-as-usual strategies we take for granted in new builds are not possible, so it forces you to think outside the box. For example, the heritage façade can be a significant challenge particularly from the thermal, energy and IEQ perspectives (which is a big part of Green Star!), but that’s also where a lot of the cultural and embodied energy benefits are found. I strongly believe that the sustainability industry needs recognise and value these benefits more, especially in light of some of the obvious challenges.

How did you use Green Star to achieve the project’s sustainability objectives?

From a technical engineering point of view, Green Star is great system for tracking and driving higher performance. The project started at a 4 Star Green Star – Performance level, and after continually testing and retesting, we were able to demonstrate a viable 6 Star pathway. The university had a clear and focussed vision aimed at global leadership and innovation. So, the defined Green Star terminology around the benchmarks, such as ‘world leadership’, were really useful in communicating to wider stakeholders.

What does sustainability mean to you?

It seems the older I get, the more I see it as risk management against what we will be living with in the near future.

Where would you like to the sustainable property industry in 10 years?

I’d like to see us maximising our potential to make a difference. It will take a focus on actual performance, closing the loop holes, eliminating red tape, strong leadership and integrity.


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