Interview of the Week: Jerome Partington on creating a restorative future through strategic and sustainable architecture

By Deirdre Robert

Posted on Dec. 1, 2010. Listed in:

Speaking at the recent Natural Step event in Auckland, Jasmax sustainability manager Jerome Partington told the audience buildings in New Zealand are often designed to meet standards that are 20 years out of date. With close to 20 years experience in sustainable design and construction, we spoke to him prior to the event where he told us why—as trained visionaries—architects have a critical role to play in creating a strategic approach to sustainable building. 

What’s your definition of sustainability? 

Allowing people to meet their needs with out undermining the biosystem. It’s a very human problem. It’s not a business or environmental problem. If humans weren’t here we wouldn’t have this problem. That’s why it’s good to bring it back to people. It’s up to us to create our futures and create the world we want to live in. David Suzuki put it well the other day: we’ve reached the point were nature doesn’t influence us, we control and manipulate nature to suit our ends but we don’t understand that we need that biocapactiy for basic human needs. 

“Green” has also been good because it’s the first base for New Zealand to engage in sustainability issues and look at ways of solving them. But we need to accelerate that change and that’s why strategic sustainability is so valuable.

Why is it so important to incorporate sustainability into architecture? 

Design is such a big part of our world. It’s the way we consciously create the world we want to inhabit and operate in. It’s unsustainable now so it’s almost a force by default to move to sustainable building practices.

How can architecture make an impact on sustainability? 

Architecture a great vehicle because we control so much resource through building and infrastructure, meaning that small shifts basically have enormous consequences in either direction.

Architects are trained to be visionaries. They’re trained to be strategic. They have to envision the future as part of their work. We can envision the sustainable or we can envision the unsustainable. Architects are key to this whole process. They’re system thinkers. They have to deal with a lot of different inputs, information and understand relationships between people, materials and energy. By our nature we should be good at sustainability. 

How would you describe New Zealand’s progress toward sustainable design? 

New Zealand is unfortunately really bad at wanting everything done yesterday for nothing and not worrying about the quality. As soon as you’ve got a brief, everything is focused on delivering it as quickly and cheaply as possible, when actually you need to take time to open up the opportunities and give them some consideration. You need to look at the implications of decisions—either direct effects or long-term effects. That then allows you to have a conversation around the desired benefits you can generate out of the project. 

It’s hard because its obvious people did invest in Auckland buildings—we have some beautiful Edwardian buildings around. But something has changed. Basically we’ve reduced it to the lowest common denominator of economic growth. 

We don’t consider that social and environmental capital is important. So we neglect it. We build on prime agriculture land in Auckland. We ignore any social impacts of our development We don’t consult. And we tend not to actually consult with the people who are physically going to use the building at the end of the day. We’re not interested in meeting people’s needs, we’re just interested in the business of it. I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh. 

What do you say to those who say it costs too much? 

The quick retort would be to say how much global warming can you take before you become extinct? But the more sensible retort is that if you’re strategic about sustainability and you take the long view about it being the right direction to go, then you can break it off into bite-size chunks and also look at whole life costing. 

If a client comes to us with a budget and they want something that’s cheap, on time and gives them the most, we can turn it around and ask them to look at it as an investment budget. What can we leverage? What can we generate in the environmental and social capacity out of the same budget? 

It’s by turning the question around that you open up those opportunities. By thinking about it differently you come out with different answers. 

How does Jasmax incorporate sustainability into its design ethos? 

All architects generally use MasterSpec. At Jasmax we’ve re-written that so that all of the knowledge and capacity we’ve picked up along the way is put into MasterSpec—for example, knowledge picked up around choosing materials. We also have a higher level of strategic talk centered around how we engage with clients, which is incorporated into our environmental management system. We ask questions like: Are you going to evaluate the design after it’s been built? Are you going to get a building management system in the building? Are we talking to our clients about sustainability and ensuring that they know there are opportunities they may not be aware of or understand in relation to sustainability? Do we work in an integrated and collaborative way, with knowledge transfer of the design process?

Biggest challenge in building sustainability? 

There’s always a set of conflicts you’re working to in terms of where the client is at and what the budget is. 

What’s the difference between green building and sustainable building? 

Green building is about doing less harm. It’s about being more energy efficient. It’s making sure you get the basics right and building to the better standard. But it's often not aiming high enough. The NZI is an exemplar of green building and with the collaborative process used to deliver it, is as close as we get to a sustainable building in NZ. It addresses a wider range of issues than a conventional green building and is performing really well.

The next step from sustainable building is restorative buildings to create and build capcity in the eco system and society. It looks beyond the site for synergies with it's neighbours, doesn’t pollute in any way, generates more energy than it uses, produces food and opens up opportunities for people to live better lives through sustainable living. It’s about starting to mimic nature and being mega efficient rather than just efficient. 

Aside from sustainability initiatives, does Jasmax have any social initiatives in place? 

We have a very strong engagement with our professional community and the construction community in New Zealand, with a strong emphasis on education and partnering. We also use our office for events and supporting sustainable initiatives. 

Project wise for example at Avondale College we effectively gave about $30K of my time to help the design become an exemplar of sustainable education.

We have little engagement with 'the local of our communities' and this is an area to be addressed, especially as we are a creative company and could engage in a positive way. I have some ideas but it's early days.

New Zealand Green Building Council Green Star certified buildings by Jasmax

  • NZI Centre - 5 Star Office Building
  • Sylvia Park  - 5 Star Office Building
  • BNZ Quay Park - 5 Star Interior Fit Out
  • Westpac on Takutai Square - 5 Star Office Building
  • BNZ Wellington - 5 Star Office Building and Interior Fit out

Sylvia Park

NZI Building

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