Artist's impression of Ecco Ripley, Ripley Valley Queensland

The Green Building Council of Australia is pioneering a new concept in sustainability – the idea that an entire community can achieve a green star rating.

Even more remarkable is the fact that 20 developers were courageous enough to join the pilot program.

Why courageous?

Because the criteria against which their designs were measured had not even been drafted when their designs were being developed. In other words, their master plans were measured retrospectively against the GBCA’s rigorous Green Star – Communities rating tool.

Ecco Ripley, a project of Japanese developer, Sekisui House, is one of only two developers to receive a 5 Star Green Star rating under the new Green Star – Communities rating tool. To date, just five other pilot projects have been awarded a rating: Alkimos Beach in Western Australia and Caloundra South in Queensland achieved a 6-star rating; Greater Curtin in Bentley, Western Australia received a 5-star rating; and Brisbane Airport in Queensland has received a 4-star rating.

OK, upfront declaration: Hames Sharley created the master plan for Ecco Ripley for its Japanese developer, Sekisui House. But we are not here to subject you to self-congratulatory bragging.

We write this story because there are lots of lessons and takeaways from this development and because we hope to encourage other developers, and their urban designers and architects to see the value and possibilities of the innovative Green Star – Communities rating.

A long-term vision

Ripley Valley is a picturesque area to the south-east of the Queensland town of Ipswich, now a suburb on the outskirts of Brisbane.

In 2009, Sekisui House created a brief for its Ripley Valley development master plan that borders on the poetic. Sekisui House’s core philosophy is “love of humanity”, so it’s hardly surprising that the name of the project – Ecco – embodies imaginative principles: E for environment, C for community, C for connected, and O for optimistic.

But the vision for this corner of Queensland, with the Bundamba Creek running through rolling hills that were once farmland, went deeper into a prescription for a happy lifestyle.

Four key Japanese design principles underpinned the design brief for the master plan of the Ecco Ripley community, which Sekisui House describes as:

  1. Satoyama – meaning “rhythms of green that bring us together”;
  2. Dohon-no-ki – the idea of bringing Satoyama from the public realm into the private garden;
  3. N x Yutaka – a formula that symbolises the cumulative benefits of good, integrated design;
  4. Michi – a word best translated as a rich pedestrian environment.

Our challenge in creating the master plan was to adapt the Japanese design principles to the Australian context.

Translating a design vision

To provide a rich pedestrian environment – Michi – we applied deep consideration to the priority given to pedestrians over cars within the master plan. Ripley Valley’s semi-rural setting provided both opportunities and constraints. The suburb’s distance from the centre of Brisbane dictated that most residents would need a car, and would want quick access to freeways. On the other hand, the abundance of green space, and natural water features offered opportunities for views, recreation and community gatherings that contribute to an engaging pedestrian-oriented experience.

The master plan proposed a “five-minute lifestyle” – every house within five minutes’ walking distance of all amenities: shops, the local school, open space, community gardens, views, parks, public transport, and Bundamba Creek. The five-minute lifestyle – an idea that Sekisui House embraced – also supported the idea of Satoyama – with the “rhythms of green bringing the community together”. Walking around the streets to local parks, with glimpses of the hills around the valley, for example, is the kind of experience that brings a community together.

The plan also included an emphasis on using plants indigenous to the local area, which underscored the notion of Dohon-no-ki – bringing Satoyama from the public realm into the private garden. Every new homeowner receives three native trees, which Sekisui House again describes rather poetically: one for the birds and two for the butterflies.

Sekisui House, which has built over 2.2 billion homes since it was formed in the 1960s, provides design options for house and land packages that integrate sustainable design features. For example, timber comes from sustainable forests; homeowners can incorporate solar panels; living spaces are oriented to achieve passive heating and cooling efficiencies.

Overall, the cumulative effect of the master plan design is to create and enhance a strong sense of identity and place, ownership and connection, meeting the principle represented by the formula N x Yutaka.

How the design met the Green Star – Communities guidelines

To achieve a Green Star – Communities rating, the master plan, which was approved by the relevant planning authorities in Queensland in 2012, had to meet criteria in five categories. This led to a score out of 100. The highest rating is 6 star – world leaders; 5 stars is Australian excellence, while 4 stars are best practice. There is no rating below 4 stars.

The five categories demand high standards. These include:

  • Governance in areas such as sustainability awareness, reporting, operations and engagement with stakeholders. Sekisui House had to demonstrate that it met these criteria.
  • Design, with consideration of site selection, context analysis, planning and urban design.
  • Livability, with specific reference to health and active living, access to fresh food, community development, safety, culture and heritage, and accessibility.
  • Economic prosperity, by such measure as to whether the development leads to a net increase of local jobs, as well as allowing access to city centres, diversity in job options, training and education, affordable housing, and digital infrastructure.
  • Environment, in particular, site selection, and Green Star buildings, enhancing biodiversity, reducing light and greenhouse gas pollution and “heat island” effect, as well as efficient water and energy management.

Each category has between five and ten sub-categories. Sekisui House understood the value of achieving a good rating, actively encouraging GBCA to pilot the program, and commissioning Hames Sharley to manage the application process. This process involved creating 35 reports and took close to two years.

It is a tribute to the vision and foresight of Sekisui House’s master plan brief and, we humbly assert, to Hames Sharley’s interpretation of it, that the Ecco Ripley project received a 5-star, Australian excellence rating – the second highest rank.

The reason we are really excited

In the final analysis, our pride in being part of this venture is a small element of its significance.

What it really means is that developers committed to creating sustainable, environmentally-sensitive and connected communities will achieve recognition and are likely to command a price premium. Homebuyers are willing to pay extra for a lifestyle that fosters the health and happiness of themselves and their children today, and in the future.

Which is what really, truly makes this rating an exciting moment for us here at Hames Sharley.

About the author: Anna Robinson is an associate and senior urban designer with Hames Sharley.

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