Eco-bling has a funny ring to it until you realise that it is said with disdain, disgust and is intended to send environmental initiatives down the drain.
The term sometimes arises in meetings, often from construction and engineering professionals, in reference to infrastructure and environmental initiatives that look good, but are not particularly useful, effective, or necessary. To label something ‘eco-bling’ is to disregard it; it means it’s all show and no function, implying that it was a waste of money.
There are three reasons to present infrastructure and environmental initiatives:
- They save money – i.e. less cladding and less space for services buried in the basement or the roof.
- They perform better, as they are usually located in exposed places that capture sunlight, water, and air, allowing living systems to thrive in these environments.
- They connect residents and tenants to their environment. Every day a building consumes resources and generates waste. By making these initiatives visible, designers are intending to explicitly connect people to the l world around them, as well as the changing dynamics of the climate and the operation of the building in which they work or live.
In 2010, the Royal Academy of Engineering suggested eco-bling was “unnecessary renewable energy visibly attached to the outside of poorly-designed buildings.” Perhaps slightly harsh, however a worthy point if the suggestion is to initially design higher quality buildings.
An example of projects that have challenged the Australian market and could be viewed as eco-bling are:
RMIT’s Design Hub
An incredible façade wraps around the building, composed of small circular glass plates that act as photovoltaic cells, evaporative cooling, and fresh air intakes, improving the internal air quality, and reducing running costs. Is it eco-bling or a smart and adaptive way of utilising building facades?
Pixel was an ambitious office construction completed in 2010. The aim was to demonstrate the potential of a 100 per cent carbon neutral building. It includes a funky façade acting to reduce shade and glare. The roof contains everything you could imagine: a green roof, wind turbines, and fixed and tracking solar panels. Is this eco-bling or an iconic demonstration site of a future office?
South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)
SAHMRI is a state of the art medical research centre which includes an incredible, eye-catching exterior to manage sunlight, heat load, glare, and wind, while maintaining views and daylight. The question remains, was there a simpler way to manage light and heat in this building?
One Central Park
In the heart of downtown Sydney lies another interesting project, One Central Park. A large precinct with a range of environmental initiatives, including a significant green wall containing 35,000 plants. The purpose built initiative filters surrounding air (it is located very close to Central station and is on a six-lane road). It is unique and delivers multiple benefits, but is it too much?
If we accept that we have an urgent need to deal with a climate crisis, it is our duty to do everything we can to lift the performance of buildings, improve comfort, and reduce their environmental impact. What is the harm in adding a constant visual reminder of our link with water, energy, and waste? I propose we change the term to ecoservices and move beyond negative label, ‘eco-bling’.