World’s first smart embassy in Canberra - 02 Jul 2009

A new Netherlands Ambassador was recently appointed to Australia.

I met His Excellency Willem Andreae a couple of months ago at a reception to welcome him. He told me that the project that is most important to him is the construction of a new Dutch Embassy in Canberra.

And his goal is nothing less than to build the world's first smart embassy!

This includes various ‘green' and ‘smart' aspects - from design to materials used, production of the raw materials, climate control, daylight, acoustics, temperature, ventilation, lifespan of the building, trees on the site and water usage.

The aim is to be 100% carbon neutral.

The architecture of the building is stunning. It is a round structure with an atrium in the middle and a ‘sun mill'- a sun panel that moves with the sun - on the roof, similar to the Dutch windmills that were turned according to the direction of the wind.

The building will also use thermal energy.

But the vision of the Dutch government goes beyond the actual building. They also want to use this project to bridge the distance between the two countries, to make it a joint venture. It was designed in the Netherlands but will be built by Australians, with local expertise and materials.

The Netherlands will also use this to position themselves for the future. There is a rich history between the two countries but here the focus is on the future. It is envisaged that experts and companies from both countries will use the opportunity to build research, expertise and commercial bridges. There was an open invitation from the ambassador for others to become involved with ideas, suggestions and participation in the project.

Of course, when he mentioned this project to me I immediately saw a connection with the other smart activities that are happening in Australia. I thought of the trans-sector potential that this project offers, particularly in relation to other ‘smarts' such as telecoms (connected to the National broadband Network), smart grids, and other communications and IT smarts. So I suggested organising a meeting at the embassy with industry representatives to develop this further.

It was a very successful meeting, and further follow-ups have already been planned. It clearly spoke to the industry imagination and fitted in nicely with the many activities that are currently underway in Australia, from both the government and the industry. Some of the obvious links that can be established are with the TransAct broadband network, ACTEWAGL's smart grid and the proposed sun farm in Canberra. Both the ACT government and the universities can be involved in various studies, promotions and other activities. E-health was also addressed. A study project looking at the current work situation of embassy staff and comparing it with the situation in the new embassy at a later date could show if smart buildings also make for happy people.

It will be fascinating to see how all these different elements will come together in this project, delivering one truly integrated end result. The aim for completion is late 2010.

The embassy is currently developing a website where it will present its plan, and where progress reports will be published. They will have blogs about the many aspects of the building and they hope to engage students and other interested parties to discuss and debate the pros and cons as the building progresses.

I envisage that this could become a highly visible demonstration of a smart building project; it will enable the broader industry to show how a ‘green' and ‘smart' trans-sector approach can work. Presentations of this project - in both Australia and the Netherlands - will certainly also feature in some of the industry conferences covering various smart areas in relation to planning and architecture, energy and sustainability, communications and IT, and this would highlight the capabilities of those involved in the project in both countries.

Paul Budde

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