Common goals

Architect Shannon Battisson puts sustainability at the forefront, and believes stronger collaboration is needed between designers and builders when it comes to new housing stock.


Laura Valic

Shannon Battisson
Architect and HIA GreenSmart Professional, Shannon Battisson, from The Mill Design is devoted to environmental design.

Shannon Battisson from The Mill Design is an architect with an avid devotion to environmental design. With more than 14 years of experience, her projects span across Australia, Hong Kong and the US.

After graduating from the University of New South Wales, she returned to Canberra to work for a design and construction company with a strong environmental focus. This experience cultivated her passion for improving the quality of Australia’s housing stock.

Shannon was recently presented with the 2018 Australian Institute of Architects ACT Chapter Emerging Architect of the Year award. 

Q: What innovations are you seeing in green building?

SB: We’re seeing a greater uptake of building wraps and efforts towards air tight building envelopes than ever before. Done well, the new breathable membranes available can put control over when a building breathes back in the hands of the occupant. In Canberra’s harsh climate that means allowing fewer draughts (hot or cold), and better cross ventilation at times that it is desirable. As the wraps are more widely used, their install is getting better and better, and the process of sealing a building is becoming easier.
The increase in the level of air tightness in our buildings is a good thing in terms of control and building function, but it can lead to problems when not handled correctly, particularly with humidity and condensation. Going back to basics to ensure correct building orientation, and quality window choices and placement, is paramount. 

Q: Are you seeing an increase in demand for sustainable products/design?

SB: Absolutely. We are run off our feet trying to keep up with new clients looking for the right person to help them navigate the world of environmentally responsive architecture and make sure they get both the house they want, and one they will be comfortable in. We always recommend clients meet with several designers to find the right fit for them, and we always recommend moving forward with a strong climate responsive design.

Q: When it comes to sustainability in housing what are you most passionate about?

SB: We need to affect a massive increase in the quality of our general housing stock for us to make a real dent on the climate crisis we are currently facing. This cannot happen unless the new home market, most particularly project homes, is dramatically improved. In decades past, project homes were delivered by a team of building professionals (architects, engineers and contractors) who worked together to produce a great outcome for both the homeowner and the community. We have lost that to a certain degree, and I’m passionate about finding ways to bring the different fields together to work towards our common goals again.

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the past 5 years in this space?

SB: We have been thrilled to see more and more developments happening with both an architect and builder involved from the start. In Canberra, where we have had the unique situation of loose fill asbestos houses being demolished en masse, the need to develop blocks in inner suburbs has presented a great opportunity. What we have noticed is a trend for many of these blocks to be purchased by smaller developers or builders looking to produce something more special and who are then putting together a team from across the industry to do it. This is a great step in the right direction we hope!

Sustainable house

We’re seeing a greater uptake of building wraps and efforts towards air tight building envelopes. Done well, the new breathable membranes can put control over when a building breathes back in the hands of the occupant.

Q: What changes do you think need to happen in Australian building for us to continue to build with a lighter environmental footprint?

SB: I think it really comes down to building better, not bigger.  We have some of the biggest houses in the world and this is not something to be proud of. While we need some big houses we need to move away from only building four bedroom plus homes. Introducing a wider variety of housing sizes and typologies will not only allow us to meet the needs of our varied community, but will also allow us the opportunity to build better quality homes for everyone. This will have a massive impact on our environmental footprint.

Q: In what ways are you apart of it?

SB: We are big believers in quality over quantity, and our clients are too. We are not the type of firm to build large houses unless our clients have the budget to build them to a certain level of quality and performance, and we are upfront with our clients on this topic. We work with our clients to make sure they are building a design that meets their brief, will support them in the way they want to live, and in the most economic footprint possible. This allows them to invest their budget wisely and in the areas of the build that will have the greatest impact on the performance of their home. The reality is that a well-designed, well-built house is a pleasure to come home to on the most bitter Canberra winter evenings, and our clients could attest to that.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge industry faces with building green?

SB: We need stronger safeguards to make sure the final built product meets both the minimum standards mandated by the National Construction Code as well as what was designed and paid for. While most in our industry work hard to deliver a great result for their clients, there are still too many who are prepared to deliver a substandard product for clients who may not be in a position to tell the difference until it’s too late. This is something everyone in our industry should be fighting against, as it not only reflects poorly on all of us, but it leaves our cities with a sub-par built environment – and our climate is paying the price.

Q: When it comes to sustainable building what would you like industry to do more of?

SB: I would love to see more builders engage with the wider design profession. Such incredible things happen when we work together for a common goal: a great outcome for our clients and our cities. There’s currently a level of distance between the building community and the design industry, especially in the single housing market. Greater collaboration would lead to huge steps forward for our whole industry.

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