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Twelve Questions with Green Magazine’s Tamsin O’Neill

People - by Open Journal

Green Magazine was launched 2006 in response to the demand for a magazine devoted to sustainable architecture and landscape design. Commencing initially as a quarterly, it soon went bimonthly and six years later has a readership of over 120,000 and growing. Green Magazine has recently launched designbook, a new online resource for homeowners and industry professionals that allows users to search, collate, annotate and share information from green magazine.

Tamsin O’Neill is the Founder and Editor of Green Magazine and here answers twelve questions for Open Journal on sustainable design.

Tell us about how Green Magazine came about, what was the ‘let’s go for it’ moment?

In 2007 I was working for a Melbourne publishing house as an editor on another magazine when a friend and mentor suggested that there was real need for a magazine on sustainable architecture. I had always thought that the magazine stands were overflowing and the topic of architecture was well covered but this topic really interested me. Along with my publisher, co-founder and partner, Tom Bodycomb we took a punt and haven’t looked back.

Tamsin O'Neill portrait

Sustainable design is growing in public consciousness, have you noticed a shift in interest in sustainable living since starting Green Magazine?

I have noticed a huge shift. It is no longer the domain of a select group of architects, ESD is widely practised and interpreted in a variety of ways. Sustainability in product design has also become the focus for many designers, whether it be in the materials they use or the manufacturing process. It’s a really exciting time for Australian design across all disciplines.

Sustainable building can be regarded an expensive and requiring expert architects, what sustainable design suggestions would you make to someone just starting a home construction process?

That an architect will be well worth the expense. That they really consider the site well before making plans, orientation is a crucial factor in designing any home and particularly important from a sustainable perspective. A well sited house, along with great insulation and well placed glazing and shading, can reduce energy requirements substantially.

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What sustainable living suggestions would you make to apartment dwellers?

If you can, spend on great joinery. Cleverly designed, it can not only solve storage problems but also enhance the experience of living in a small space. Think carefully about window coverings and how they will assist in the control of heat/cold. Grow food on balconies or in window boxes. Push for the body corporate to install PVs and solar hot water.

What is your take on community gardens? Do you think more should be done to incorporate them into the community? 

We have published several articles on community gardens over the years, very early on we featured one on the veggie gardens that have been established in Melbourne’s commission flats. I grew up in North Melbourne and the flats in Flemington were sad places. Visiting these gardens full of residents of all nationalities, sharing growing tips with each other was a heartwarming experience. They are so important and need to remain accessible to all. Others that exist for apartment dwellers in the suburbs also serve the purpose of community engagement, providing the setup can accommodate as many as possible. I would like to see a lot more use of vacant land utilised for community gardens.

What’s your take on green rating schemes? 

There has been criticism of the credibility of assessors and the loopholes associated with gaining ratings but overall it has been an important step in pushing building product suppliers to improve the environmental performance of their products. One of the biggest problems is that the building star rating system doesn’t apply to appliances, so you can have a building with a six star rating but the occupants can install inefficient appliances.

Urban Salvage

Tell us about Designbook, how do you think it will assist the sustainable design industry?

Designbook came about after years of enquiries from readers wanting to know about certain products featured in previously published articles and suppliers wanting to know how to have a presence on our site. It offers those who are renovating two things, inspiration in the form of articles on projects from the magazine and then supplies from reputable brands with good credentials. Private designbooks become like project folders where the client can share ideas and products with their architect, builder, partner …

Tell us about your own home, what sustainable design initiatives have you incorporated into your life?

We have retrofitted our 100 year old weatherboard with good insulation, double glazing and draftproofing. We had some well designed and crafted kitchen joinery done by Cantilever who use locally sourced, non toxic materials. We grow our own veggies and fruit and ride bikes everywhere (our other publication is Treadlie, so we are big advocates).

Who do you see as role models in the sustainable design community, do you see any architects/ builders/ landscape architects/ community groups leading the way?

Jeremy McLeod from Breathe Architects is certainly a leader in the area of sustainable design, he is currently shaking up the model for apartment development. In Sydney Caroline Pidcock has been a longstanding crusader for ESD and generally I am seeing so many young practices leading the way. In the area of landscape architecture, Fiona Brockhoff is an inspiring advocate of sustainability. There are so many great grass roots community groups holding events around the country. 3000 Acres springs to mind.

Copper ID

What is the biggest misconception you hear about sustainable design?

That it’s expensive. There are so many ways to improve the efficiency of the home resulting in a quick return on investment. Good design makes for a more efficient and liveable home and needn’t be more expensive.

What has been your favourite feature over the life of Green Magazine?

Oh so many, that’s hard. The ones I am particularly fond of are the houses built in small spaces as these seem to require the most creative solutions and because we need a lot more of them. In issue 2 we profiled a fabulous project by Brisbane architect James Russell. He built his family home in between two churches in inner Brisbane in a tiny space, yet it has a beautiful sense of space and airflow. More recently we profiled a fantastic apartment by Palace Electric a NZ practice. They fitted out an apartment using mostly recycled materials in a really modern and fresh way.

How do you see Australian cities prioritising sustainable design into the future? Where do you think the industry will be in 10 years?

By focusing on establishing a good public transport system and more medium density housing, combined with more green public spaces. At the last Green Cities Conference ideas revolved around these topics and speakers from around the world demonstrated the effectiveness of implementing them. I hope that in 10 years we will see these kinds of outcomes in Australia.

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