Schimminger Architects – City of Hope

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Architect Reiner Schimminger from Schimminger Architects tells us about an exciting Eco Housing Project at the Jetty in Coffs Harbour. The ‘City of Hope’ development, located at 23 Bent Street, will be the first of its kind in Australia …

Tell us about your business – Schimminger Architects … how long has it been based on the Coffs Coast, and what does it specialise in?

I have been in business in Coffs Harbour as Schimminger Architects since 1989.

We specialise in sustainability, energy efficiency, urban ecology and unique high quality architectural design for residential and commercial projects.

What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with recently – either on the Coffs Coast, or outside the area?

This year we have completed a new medical centre in Urunga, a community preschool in Bowraville and an exciting private residence in Boronia St, Sawtell.

You have a project in the pipeline at the moment, which will be constructed at Bent Street. What does this project comprise?

This is an exciting Eco Housing Project at the Jetty in Coffs Harbour. We called it ‘City of Hope’.

The site is at No. 23 Bent Street, next to the Coffs Harbour High School’s agricultural lot – a 1,200 sqm site with perfect northerly orientation, a gentle slope which assures views to the north for all dwellings, nice views over Coffs Harbour’s green backdrop and Coffs Creek and ocean glimpses from the roof gardens.

It is a quiet and very convenient location, close to the beach, to the cafés and shops at the Jetty, as well as to the centre of town.

There will be four superbly designed dwellings on community title, each dwelling with its own garden, ‘vertical gardens’ and roof gardens.

The project is designed and will be constructed with the most advanced measures of sustainability possible in the built environment today.

It is the restoration and re-development of an existing site in Coffs Harbour’s urban fabric – not taking up valuable unspoilt land.

It will include urban food production, enhancement of biodiversity and through its convenient location, reduce dependence on car transport to encourage car free living.

Net zero water, net zero energy, relying on solar energy from the site, zero greenhouse gas emissions, no combustion of anything.

It will maximise physical and psychological wellbeing, using healthy, non-toxic materials only, which are safe for all species through time.

What is it about this project at Bent Street that is particularly special or different to other constructions on the Coffs Coast?

This project will be the first of its kind in Australia!

It aims to achieve the exceedingly high standards of ‘The Living Building Challenge’, an initiative of the International Living Future Institute, a NGO committed to catalysing a global transformation toward true sustainability. (see www.ilbi.org)

How exciting to see a landmark project like this right here in little Coffs Harbour.

The project will demonstrate how to live a life of exquisite sufficiency, whilst lowering our ecological footprint to within the limits of what planet Earth can sustainably provide.

The project has a research and educational aspect: the operation and performance of the project will be measured and documented over a period of two years, and the results will be provided to the public to share the lessons learnt and to motivate others to make change in their live and built environment.

At what stage is this project at the moment … is construction due to commence soon?

The project has achieved Council’s Development Consent. We are now working on the engineering design for the infrastructure required for the Community Title subdivision and on the details required for the construction certificate. We expect work to begin on site within the next two months.

How long do you estimate the project will take to complete?

The project will be constructed in three stages. We expect the first house to be completed by mid next year, with the completion of the other three houses one year later.

What builders/tradesmen will be associated with the construction phase of the project, and why were they chosen in particular?

The houses will be built under a construction management agreement. The natural Home Company Pty. Ltd will act as builder (www.thenaturalhomecompany.com.au) with myself as construction manager. This assures achieving the best quality and best value for the owners.

The first house built will be for myself, as my own residence. Any lessons learnt from the first house will then benefit the construction of the other three houses.

How do you personally, as an architect, define ‘sustainability’ in terms of dwellings or construction? What are some of the important issues a building must address to ensure it’s sustainable?

I would like to see ‘sustainability’ in the wider context of how we live our lives and the impact that it has on planet Earth and all life on it. Buildings are just one component in this context. It should be self-evident today that buildings have to be net producers of energy, not consumers; zero greenhouse gas emissions has to be mandatory.

We have to recognise and acknowledge that planet Earth’s resources are finite, and we have to learn to live within the limits Earth can provide.

At present, humanity’s eco footprint takes up 1.5 times planet Earth and rising.

This is obviously not going to work for very long. We only have one planet. The future is not ours to erase. We have to aim at leaving a world behind that can sustain life for future generations.

Given our track record of ‘business as usual’, this is going to be difficult.

However, giving up now is not an option.

Let us assume that it is not too late,

that we can’t know the strength of life,

that change can happen, that we take up the challenge to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment into a civilization that creates greater biodiversity, resilience and opportunities for life.

Last not least: Why call it ‘City of Hope’?

Hope is seen here not as an emotion, but as a task … an activity.

Hope comes into play when our circumstances are dire, when things are not going well, or at least there’s considerable uncertainty about how things will turn out. Hope opens us up and removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture, thus allowing us to become creative and have belief in a better future.

In this sense, the Bent Street development is the physical manifestation of a creative response in uncertain times to work towards a better future.

Let’s get on with it.

Where can people go to find out more information about the Bent Street project, or Schimminger Architects in general?

Call Reiner on 6651 2811 or 0418 624 258. Schimminger Architects, 64 Albany St, Coffs Harbour. www.schimmingerarchitects.com

We are working on the website, which we hope will go on-line soon:

www.cityofhope.com.au

Thanks Reiner.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

This story was published in issue 25 of the Coffs Coast Focus

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