‘Greening’ Architecture with Eckersley Garden Architecture

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    Our desire to connect with nature through design fuels the ever-increasing importance of landscaped spaces. We’ve engaged Australia’s leading landscape architects and designers in a new series that explores the myriad ways they design to live in harmony with nature, concurrently improving human health and wellbeing. 

    In our latest feature, Melbourne landscape architecture firm Eckersley Garden Architecture co-directors Myles Broad and Scottie Leung discuss their approach to ‘greening’ architecture. ‘Greening’ architecture sees a building as an intrinsic part of its natural environment – both from a visual and sustainable standpoint. “It’s about creating natural habitats for people,” Myles says.

    From a visual standpoint, greening a building softens its features and often creates the illusion of being ‘taken over’ by the landscape. From a sustainability standpoint, greening a building is crucial to ensuring its permanence within the landscape.

    Having collaborated with several of Australia’s leading architecture firms, including Studio Bright and Edition Office, Myles and Scottie have in-depth knowledge about the advantages and challenges of greening architecture, which they discuss in this interview.

    ‘Greening’ architecture is a recurring theme in your work. How do you define ‘green architecture’?

    Myles Broad: Firstly, it’s important to mention the prevalence of greenwashing nowadays: saying a building is ‘green’ just because it has a vertical garden doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. ‘Green architecture’ refers to green buildings in both a visual and environmental sense. It considers the garden an intrinsic part of the building rather than just ‘slapping’ on some greenery.

    Scottie Leung: We use greenery to soften architecture – to clean up the ‘ugliness’. When we say ‘ugly’, we don’t mean that in a literal sense; we mean that buildings can look harsh before there’s a garden there. We look at our gardens as a counterpoint to heavy architecture. And more architects now are recognising the importance of having a garden. In the past, we’d often see these monolithic elements within a landscape with no real sense of belonging.

    Myles Broad: It’s about creating natural habitats for people.

    What are some effective ways you’ve ‘greened’ buildings?

    Myles Broad: We green up, green down, green across; we advocate for greenery all around. We ask for greater soil depth; we ask for cutouts in pavements; we string wires across building faces; we take whatever we can get. Sometimes we get pushed back, but in our eyes, there’s no such thing as ‘too much greenery’.

    Scottie Leung: Plant selection is essential, as are the aspects of a building. For example, one side of a building could be exposed to lots of sun while the other is largely shaded. That will inform the way you green those spaces. Gardens are dynamic as well – they’re always changing – which we have to consider.

    How do you think green architecture goes hand-in-hand with human well-being?

    Myles Broad: I think the pandemic showed how humans constantly seek a connection with nature. There were already plenty of studies out there that told us nature was good for our mental health, but when our access to the outside world was limited, we got a feel for just how much. 

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    Fenwick by Edition Office | Photography by Will Salter

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    Hawthorn House by Edition Office | Photography by Tom Ross

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    East Melbourne Residence | Photography by Tim Allen

    est living eckersley garden architecture interview

    East Melbourne Residence | Photography by Tim Allen

    Both the architect and landscape architect are responsible for integrating buildings into their natural environment. How have you typically worked with architects on projects to achieve this?

    Myles Broad: The best results come from a really collaborative approach. When the architect keeps us actively involved in the design process, that’s really refreshing. 

    Scottie Leung: We’ve got a really good understanding of how people want to use their outdoor spaces, which architects should and do utilise.

    Myles Broad: It’s also not just about collaboration between the architect and landscape architect – it’s also about the client and their needs. We’re very client-brief-driven as well as architect-brief-driven.

    ‘Autumn House’ by Studio Bright is a great example of incorporating greenery into the structural fabric of a building. How did you work with Studio Bright on the design/concept? 

    Scottie Leung: The brief revolved around an existing 80-year-old Chinese Elm tree, which already did a lot of the greening work. When we see a site with a tree like that, we always advocate keeping it. Thankfully Studio Bright were very receptive to the tree. The mesh screen that clads the second storey was their idea, which we then added plants to to create the effect of the building being claimed by the landscape.

    You’ve also encouraged a greening of architecture on some multi-residential projects, including ‘Fenwick’ with Edition Office. What are some of the challenges associated with green architecture in urban environments and, in particular, multi-residential projects?

    Scottie Leung: The brief for that project was to make the building a ‘relic’ within the landscape as if it was being taken over by it, which appealed to us. It was also unique in that it was covered by a vegetation protection overlay, which the local government puts in place to preserve existing vegetation and encourage the regeneration of native plants and trees. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case, and developers are willing to sacrifice garden space for more building space because that ultimately makes them more money. 

    Myles Broad: We need developers, but convincing them to lessen that profit margin will continue to be a struggle for us moving forward.

    Scottie Leung: In the case of Fenwick, the developer we worked with, ANGLE, emphasised the garden and, despite being more expensive to start with, actually ended up selling the houses for more because of that differentiator.

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