As Australia's population continues to grow unabated and its leading cities post attendant gains in density, the creation of energy efficient buildings will become critical to ensuring the sustainability of our urban environments.

According to Peter Brook, design director of Peddle Thorp, a key to improving the sustainability and efficiency of built assets will lie in the incorporation of renewable energy features into their architectural design, as opposed to simply tacking the technology on subsequently as an arbitrary add-on.

“At the moment, we’re generating cities that revolve around the idea of buildings with complicated facades and colourful embellishments,” he said. “What we should be doing instead, however, is incorporating environmental technology, into the essential visual design of a building – this will be one of the most groundbreaking and exciting things about architecture in the future.

“Environmental technology should be a fundamental part of the architecture in order for the system to work; otherwise you’re just putting a token on the roof. We don’t see these technologies as something that should be just bolted onto buildings, or sitting in the background or a mechanical plant room.”

This approach to sustainable architecture is embodied by Peddle Thorp’s 60-storey Sol Invictus high-rise apartment project, slated for construction at 42 – 28 Moray Street in Melbourne’s Southbank.

“What we’re trying to do with the Sol Invictus project is present the environmental technologies as part of the architecture – we think this will be an elegant and interest way of expressing a building,” said Brook.

The installation of solar PV technology along the facade of Sol Invictus lies at the core of the development’s enhanced energy efficiency. Brook points out that high-rise facades harbour immense potential as platforms for solar power generation, given their far greater surface area compared to rooftops.

“One of the most important aspects of the Sol Invictus project is the conversion of an extensive part of the facade of the building into a solar collector, rather than leaving it as just a series of panels,” said Brook. “The reason of this is that there is roughly four or five times more area on the facade than there is on the rooftop.

“We calculated that there would be around 400 to 500 square metres of roof area, but around three and a half thousand square metres on the facade that can be converted into a solar collector.”

The Sol Invictus project envisages the use of solar power installations on the facade in tandem with the latest storage technology within the building to maximise the availability of renewable energy for occupants and drastically reduce dependence upon grid-supplied power.

“We will connect the facade to Tesla battery technology, interlinking it with the base power load of the building while also including batteries in the ownership of units,” Brook said. “This means that apartment owners will each have their own storage system that is connected to the facade’s solar collectors.”

The building will also come equipped with wind turbines on its rooftop, in order to further augment its ability to generate renewable energy.

In keeping with the principle of incorporating environmental technology into architecture, the building itself is precision designed to maximise energy performance.

“One of the problems with apartments is their high exposure to energy loss and low efficiency,” said Brook. “For this reason, we’ve subjected the solar and power performance of the building to intense modelling studies in order to improve its energy performance.

“The entire building will be an energy managed product, not just in terms of solar energy and collection, but also heat loss and gain through the building shell.”

Sol Invictus has been in development limbo for the past 18 months due to Melbourne’s downtown planning amendment, with Brook noting the project is expected to take approximately three years to complete from its launch date. These delays may not be to the project’s detriment, however, with Brook pointing to breakneck advances in renewable energy that promise to deliver even better technology for the project once it gets off the ground.

“Because we’re still in the planning permit stage, the technology hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet,” said Brook. “Technological advances are so rapid, however, that even during the course of us preparing this project the performance of the latest materials has probably improved by 50 per cent.

“The building is a commitment to the highest possible environmental standards that we can achieve, and we believe that by the time we come to implement the project the performance, availability and cost of solar panels and batteries will have improved substantially.”

Brook believes the Sol Invictus will supply at least half of the building’s power needs by means of renewable energy, and sees the adoption of similar measures by other high-rise buildings as having a potentially transformative impact upon the overall energy performance of cities.

“At the moment, a conservative estimate is that 50 per cent of the base load power will come from renewable energy, but we believe we could do even better than that with emerging technologies,” he said. “If we were to implement similar measures across the city and reduce the grid power consumption of its building by just 50 per cent, just imagine what that would do to the environmental performance of the city as a whole.”