Suburbia is sprawling (and how to fix it) __ Tone Wheeler __ environa studio

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Suburbia is sprawling (and how to fix it) __ Tone Wheeler __ environa studio
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Suburbia is sprawling (and how to fix it) __ Tone Wheeler __ environa studio

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Suburbia is sprawling (and how to fix it) __ Tone Wheeler __ environa studio
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How will Australia reconcile its sprawling suburbs with urgent sustainability needs? Tone Wheeler addresses this tension, challenging deeply ingrained cultural norms. Are tightly knit urban communities part of the solution?

Tone Wheeler is an architect, author, educator, and consultant who champions socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable design. Founder of environa studio, Tone has led numerous lauded projects, including the Milo Dunphy award-winning Wayside Chapel.

In this episode, he delves into suburban sprawl in Australia, discussing ways to reimagine suburbia for sustainability and the potential of Indigenous design. Discover how increased density and thoughtful design can help Australia meet its climate goals.

Episode outline

00:07:25 “What you’ve done is destroy paradise and put up a parking lot.”
00:03:45 Australia as a surburban nation
00:05:06 “We are, in many senses, the most urbanised country in the Western world.”
00:05:47 “The metropolitan area of Sydney is a little over 12,000 square kilometres, and it’s about the same in Los Angeles. But Los Angeles has twice the population of Sydney.”
00:06:53 “Suburbia runs through all parts of Australian society.”
00:08:27 Reimagining suburbia
00:08:47 “There are huge opportunities actually to turn suburbia back on itself.”
00:09:19 “Australia has the greatest penetration of solar PV on roofs for a country that’s not interested in sustainability.”
00:11:34 “The outer suburbs now are very sustainable. It’s this kind of weird invert that’s really hard for us who’ve been arguing against it for so long.”
00:25:50 Championing change
00:26:21 “The future of Australian design is actually way back in the past, and Australia is only just starting to discover Indigenous design.”
00:30:45 “You had a culture that lasted for 60,000 years … maybe we should take another look at all of that.”
00:32:23 “We are missing the idea of what we had as a community.”
00:33:22 Becoming Tone
00:33:54 “What a long, strange trip it’s been. Yeah, it’s been from hippie to hip and maybe hip replacement fairly soon.”
00:41:41 “Hopefully somebody just goes past one of our buildings and it’s hardly noticeable.”
00:43:50 “We’re a very diverse country, huge multiculturalism, enormous, and there’s friction a lot of the time about that, but it just means there’s a richness to what you might get in your architecture.”

Summary

Is low-density living hindering sustainability efforts in Australia? Tone Wheeler explores how reworking suburbia and integrating Indigenous design principles could transform urban environments, blending innovation with tradition.

Tone shared a striking fact: Australia is the most urbanised country in the Western world, with 40% of the population living in just two cities. Sydney, for example, sprawls out over an area comparable to Los Angeles, yet houses only half the people.

There are opportunities, however, within the sea of brick and tile.

Around 40% of suburban homes in Australia have rooftop solar panels, says Tone. This suburb in New South Wales provides an example.

Tone believes there’s a chance to rethink Australian suburbia. He advocates for increasing density by cleverly adapting existing infrastructure. This can be achieved by replacing existing single-family homes with far more efficient low-rise apartment buildings.

By increasing the density of existing suburbs, Tone says it would be possible to double Sydney’s population using only 20% of its land.
Bourke + Phillip Apartments (Sydney, Australia), by environa studio  |  © environa studio

In discussing the future of sustainability, Tone sees Indigenous design as a treasure trove of sustainable practices, perfected over millennia but largely overlooked. Reintegrating these ancient techniques could be a springboard to environmental innovation.

With regard to the social aspects of sustainability, Tone highlights the Nightingale movement in Melbourne. Architects like Jeremy McCleod of Breathe and Andrew Maynard of Austin Maynard Architects are at the forefront, redefining communal living through cooperative housing projects.

The Commons (Melbourne, Australia), by Breathe, was designed to be a catalyst for community-building.
© Tom Ross

There’s an aspiration in Tone’s own architectural work for seamless integration into the fabric of communities, rather than a quest to stand out. It’s a humble but powerful perspective that values utility and integration over prestige.

The Junction (Sydney, Australia), by environa studio, exemplifies Tone’s approach to architecture that fits into its neighbourhood without demanding attention.
© Tone Wheeler

Tone champions a future where architecture fosters sustainability through thoughtful, unobtrusive design. He challenges us to view our neighbourhoods as canvases for sustainable innovation. After all, the path to sustainability in architecture can be as much about rediscovering and repurposing the old as it is about pioneering the new.

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with a recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:04:22 “…impact of urban sprawl on natural…”
“urban sprawl”  |  Britannica
00:18:45 “…the term NIMBY?…”
“NIMBY”  |  Britannica
00:19:03 “…people called NOTEs and…”
“What does NOTE stand for?”  |  Acronym Finder
00:19:22 “…doing called YIMBYs, yes…”
“Rise of the yimbys: the angry millennials with a radical housing solution”  |  The Guardian
00:19:27 “…them as CAVE dwellers, not…”
“How to Deal With ‘CAVE People’ — Citizens Against Virtually Everything”  |  Rotman
00:20:04 “…councils as BANANAS, build…”
“BANANA”  |  Word Spy
00:21:57 “…2019, 2020 bushfire was a…”
“In-Depth: Australian Bushfires”  |  World Wildlife Foundation
00:26:50 “…and the Pitjantjatjara paintings…”
“Pitjantjatjara”  |  Wikipedia
00:27:47 “…called Gunya, Goondie & Wurley, a gunya…”
“Gunyah Goondie + Wurley”  |  Thames & Hudson
00:28:36 “…called the Dark Emu…”
“Dark Emu”  |  Magabala Books
00:32:38 “…the Nightingale movement, which…”
“Our story”  |  Nightingale Housing
00:04:00 “…cities from Philip Vivian, chair of…”
“Philip Vivian”  |  Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
00:04:05 “…the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat…”
“About CTBUH”  |  Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
00:05:13 “…or the OECD. 40%…”
“About the OECD”  |  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
00:10:12 “…made by Tesla or some…”
“Tesla, Inc.”  |  Britannica
00:16:09 “…city architect Rob Adams was doing…”
“Rob Adams”  |  LinkedIn
00:27:01 “…painters, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Sally Gabori…”
“Emily Kame Kngwarreye”  |  Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
00:27:04 “…painters, Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Sally Gabori…”
“Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori”  |  Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
00:27:37 “…guy called Paul Memmott who has…”
“Professor Paul Memmott”  |  The University of Queensland
00:28:39 “…by Bruce Pascoe that’s…”
“Bruce Pascoe”  |  Wikipedia
00:30:20 “…name of Dillon Kombumerri who is…”
“Dillon Kombumerri”  |  The University of Melbourne
00:31:20 “…that’s Hully Liveris…”
“Hully Liveris”  |  ArchitectureAU
00:31:24 “…Philip Thalis at…”
“Professor Philip Thalis”  |  Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects
00:31:24 “…Hill Thalis has won…”
“Profile | Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects”  |  Hill Thalis Architecture + Urban Projects
00:32:48 “…Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture was one…”
“Jeremy McLeod”  |  The University of Melbourne
00:32:49 “…Jeremy McLeod of Breathe Architecture was one…”
“Breathe Studio”  |  Breathe
00:32:53 “…that and Six Degrees, which pretty…”
“About Six Degrees Architects”  |  Six Degrees Architects
00:33:02 “…and Andrew Maynard as well…”
“Austin Maynard Architect’s Leadership”  |  Austin Maynard Architects
00:33:48 “…bands, the Grateful Dead who…”
“Grateful Dead”  |  Britannica
00:34:15 “…a professor I had, Col James, to…”
“Vale Colin James”  |  UNSW Sydney
00:34:29 “…government, Tom Uren and…”
“Tom Uren, 1921-2015”  |  The Guardian
00:35:56 “…for the Anglican Church, Anglicare for…”
“Anglicanism”  |  Britannica
00:36:01 “…the Uniting Church, who…”
“Uniting Church in Australia”  |  Wikipedia
00:36:07 “…of the Catholic Church and…”
“Roman Catholicism”  |  Britannica
00:38:16 “…into the Faith Housing Alliance on which…”
“Our Purpose”  |  Faith Housing Alliance
00:41:25 “…you had Bjarke Ingels talking about…”
“How form-making will unlock the power of architecture __ Bjarke Ingels”  |  Ecogradia
00:01:44 “…based in Singapore…”
“Singapore”  |  Britannica
00:01:45 “…now Australia often conjures…”
“Australia”  |  Britannica
00:02:18 “…central Sydney and Melbourne. He…”
“Sydney” (New South Wales, Australia)  |  Britannica
00:02:19 “…central Sydney and Melbourne. He…”
“Melbourne” (Victoria, Australia)  |  Britannica
00:04:42 “…with say, Barcelona at 5,000…”
“Barcelona” (Spain)  |  Britannica
00:05:04 “…from America and from the UK, but…”
“United States”  |  Britannica
00:05:05 “…from America and from the UK, but…”
“United Kingdom”  |  Britannica
00:05:36 “…than Seattle and San Francisco and so…”
“Seattle” (Washington, United States)  |  Britannica
00:05:37 “…than Seattle and San Francisco and so…”
“San Francisco” (California, United States)  |  Britannica
00:05:57 “…same in Los Angeles. But…”
“Los Angeles” (California, United States)  |  Britannica
00:14:21 “…comes from Denmark, which is…”
“Denmark”  |  Britannica
00:16:43 “…Street or Flinders Street Station…”
“Flinders Street railway station” (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)  |  Wikipedia
00:31:21 “…Hully Liveris in Darwin…”
“Darwin” (Northern Territory, Australia)  |  Britannica
00:32:15 “…kind of Rockefeller Center…”
“Rockefeller Center” (New York City, New York, United States)  |  Britannica
00:34:59 “…in Canberra government…”
“Canberra” (Australian Capital Territory, Australia)  |  Britannica
00:36:47 “…at The Ponds, which…”
“The Ponds, New South Wales” (New South Wales, Australia)  |  Wikipedia
00:39:53 “…designed an indoor ski centre, which…”
“781. winter sports world” (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)  |  Environa Studio
00:41:31 “…visited in Copenhagen, and they…”
“Copenhagen” (Denmark)  |  Britannica
00:42:46 “…remarkable about London, even more…”
“London” (United Kingdom)  |  Britannica
00:42:49 “…so than Paris or…”
“Paris” (France)  |  Britannica
00:42:51 “…perhaps New York, is the…”
“New York” (United States)  |  Britannica
00:43:37 “…well in China, but it…”
“China”  |  Britannica
00:29:17 “…to be verandas. And…”
“veranda”  |  Britannica
00:09:11 “…this is solar photovoltaic electricity on roofs…”
“solar panel” | Britannica

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editor-at-large
Narelle Yabuka

Senior communications executive
Sana Gupta

Senior editor
Tyler Yeo

Art director (video)
Alexander Melck  |  Phlogiston

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

Video editors
Guellor Muguruka  |  Phlogiston
Madelein Myburgh  |  Phlogiston

 

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Can architecture heal our planet? In this bonus episode, we delve into the power of regenerative design. From restoring existing structures to rethinking material ownership, find out how sustainability and healing go hand in hand.
All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?
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All the noise around sustainability can be dizzying. In this episode, Bjarke Ingels returns to discuss BIG’s Plan for the Planet. Can a global framework based on real-world strategies help us achieve better individual solutions?

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