Gregory Rice, sustainability associate consultant, WSP Africa

Q: What’s your attitude towards sustainable design and how do you measure your achievements in the field?
A: I’m interested, and invested, in the operations of a building – how the services work cohesively to create an optimum internal and external environment for the users. Green buildings take cognisance of a person’s experience, their health and overall performance.

I believe success lies in the number of people that have been impacted by sustainability thinking. My hope is that those who have the privilege of working, living or shopping in a green building carry these principles through to their personal lives.

Q: What is the scope of work you undertake?
A: I advise building design and construction teams on selecting, designing and implementing appropriate sustainability initiatives for projects.

My daily work involves reviewing documentation and concepts supplied by the professional design team in accordance with project-specific environmental metrics set for the project. I utilise Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) certification tools to evaluate the sustainability performance of buildings. As a life-cycle thinker, I constantly evaluate the ‘before’ and ‘after’ decisions made on projects.

Q: What are the typical interactions during the lifespan of a project?
A: The greatest sustainability impacts are experienced at the early, conceptual-thinking phase of a project. At this point, sustainability consultants engage with the architectural team to analyse primary sustainability aspects, such as orientation and incidence of light, and overall context considerations. We can provide high-level daylight, thermal comfort and energy modelling that support design decisions.

As the design develops, we engage with the services consultants to establish the appropriateness of sustainability initiatives that can contribute towards certification goals. And during construction, we monitor the implementation of the sustainability goals set by interacting with the contractor team, before proceeding with the certification phase.

Q: What technical knowledge is required?
A: A good understanding of SA’s design and construction industry. Commercial knowledge of the property development sector is also beneficial as this informs the decisions we are able to make. Holistic sustainability approaches provide a good framework for understanding the relationship between design and construction, while addressing the interaction between the necessary building components and its services.

Q: How extensive is your influence in the project process?
A: We engage with the professional team and client well before tender stage to ensure the environmental performance metrics are embedded in the contractual documentation. That way we can be assured that contractually, sustainability activities, which are the responsibility of the contractor and subcontractors, will be supported. We also advise the design team on the most appropriate materials for the building, addressing thermal performance, embodied energy and overall environmental impacts.

During construction, we constantly evaluate proposed materials and products, and guide the contractor in utilising products that conform to the set environmental metrics.

Q: In SA, is there sufficient understanding of the value of the sustainability consultant?
A: The sustainability principles introduced to the country through the GBCSA are well entrenched in the normal operations of the major contracting companies. Active participation in green-building design and construction has grown immensely over the past decade.

Q: How do you keep abreast of international green-building trends?
A: It’s advantageous to work for an international company such as WSP where we are able to learn from our global colleagues, as well as from the WSP-owned Green by Design. We’re often presented with innovative building materials and methods that can improve sustainability performance on current and future projects.

The only manner in which we can learn is to have the flexibility to try new things and evaluate their appropriateness and impact in a real-life scenario.

I’ve always said, if you haven’t attempted, you haven’t succeeded. The sustainability field is so well placed to push boundaries and transgress the perceived limitations of ‘safe’ decisions.

Q: What do you consider iconic African buildings, from a sustainability point of view?
A: Locally, it would be the Vodafone Site Solutions Innovation Centre, in Johannesburg, designed by GLH Architects. This project earned SA’s first 6-star Green Star design rating, and was recently awarded net zero carbon and ecology certification (pilot) by the GBCSA.

Continentally, FNB Namibia’s @Parkside was Namibia’s first Green Star building to achieve an as built rating (also 5-star). It contributed towards the establishment of the Green Building Council of Namibia, which is an incredible achievement and so necessary for this part of Africa. The Léo Surgical Clinic and Health Centre in Burkina Faso also stands out.

While not on the African continent, the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris reminds us of the value of solar control – the southern facade is covered by a responsive metallic brise soleil comprising several operable ocular devices that control the ingress of solar gains by reducing the aperture size.

By Kerry Dimmer
Image: Janine Petzer

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