More than a decade ago, a tiny outback Queensland community with a population of less than 100 approached a Yeppoon architect to design a local dinosaur attraction.
In the geographic centre of Queensland, Brian Hooper saw a unique opportunity to create something not only eye-catching but environmentally sustainable that would stand the test of time in a harsh environment.
The Muttaburrasaurus Interpretation Centre was opened almost a year ago and Mr Hooper won a 2022 Queensland architecture award for the design.
“I don’t know of anything like it in the world,” Mr Hooper said.
“This particular project is unique … the building itself is basically net zero [emissions] over its life span, because it’s maintenance free.”
The passionate community of Muttaburra helped build the centre from locally sourced rocks.
It features a model of the Muttaburrasaurus Langdon dinosaur, which was discovered by Doug Langdon in 1963 while he was mustering.
Muttaburra Community Development Association member Kerry Robinson said the many years of planning for the project, which was paid for with grants and assistance from the Barcaldine Regional Council, were well worth it.
“It’s just marvellous — everybody comments on it because it’s so unique,” she said.
“Architects came out to our Muttaburra stock show this year and they were just so impressed — it’s getting a name out there now.
“You wouldn’t expect that in the middle of Queensland.”
Australian Institute of Architects (AIA) said the centre was worthy of the award because of its sustainable design, use of natural light and ventilation and passive thermal control.
“This creates its own microclimate, even in an extremely hot, arid environment,” it said.
Towards net zero
CSIRO senior experimental scientist Michael Ambrose said the term net zero usually referred to the operating energy that went into a building.
“If you generate more power than you actually use, then you are going to have a net zero energy building” he said.
He said there was a big shift happening in the sector as the focus turned to sustainability.
“People with rising energy costs are realising that trying to lower the energy costs of your building is going to be financially beneficial and also benefit the environment as well,” Mr Ambrose said.
AIA Queensland president Amy Degenhart said sustainability was a fundamental principal architects used when starting a design.
“Particularly with his building with natural ventilation, lighting, and the earth berming to create thermal mass, it’s pulling above its weight in terms of getting that message across,” she said.
‘Leading the charge’
Ms Degenhart said near-net zero designs were becoming more common but there was still room for improvement.
“One item that’s not very often talked about is the embodied energy into materials — with transport costs we’ve got a lot of that,” she said.
“And then the making [of materials], so when you make a bit of aluminium, it costs a lot more in terms of the heat than when you use a reusable timber.”
Mr Ambrose said tourism and commercial sectors were “leading the charge” with sustainable building.
“They’ve tended to be ahead of the residential market,” he said.
“Particularly buildings that are in tourism spots have been striving to show their environmental credentials.”
However, Mr Ambrose said it was difficult for some commercial buildings to become net zero.
“Particularly in office buildings it can be very tricky. If you can’t put a whole lot of solar panels on top of the roof, you’ve got a very small roof footprint available to you,” he said.
“Those buildings are going to struggle to achieve that net zero energy outlook.
“So, often they are looking for how they can source sustainable energy from elsewhere to build-up renewable energy supplies that they can source and power that building.”
Changes to the national construction code are due to come into effect from October next year, meaning new homes built in Queensland will need to meet a seven-star energy efficiency rating.