What does underground architecture have to offer Australia?

Living underground: Where mining and architecture meet


If there are two industries Locker Group knows about, it’s architecture and mining. These fields seem like they’d be fairly separate, but there is an area where they overlap and intermingle: underground buildings. Given our interest in the contributing elements, and the potential underground building has in Australia, we thought we’d take a look at this fascinating movement in structural design:

The potential benefits of going underground

There are several appeals to living or working in underground structures. These primarily come down to issues of space or climate.

Living underground can be more appealing because the surface environment is simply inhospitable.

For some densely populated areas, particularly urban spaces, there is a need for more space to accommodate ever-expanding populations, but no more land area to spread out into. The BBC says that this is a major issue in Singapore, an island nation that has used its available land to its limits and is still the second most densely populated city in the world. With hardly any natural spaces left, and high-rises extending into the suburbs, Singapore is now looking at underground developments as an option for housing new industrial facilities.

And in several parts of the world, living underground is more appealing than staying on the surface because the environment is simply inhospitable. A perfect example of this is the South Australian mining town of Coober Pedy, where roughly 80 per cent of the population lives underground. Temperatures on the surface can get up to 50 degrees in the height of summer, so migrating into the cooler air of the mines below offers a logical solution.

Underground buildings also offer the opportunity to hide or disguise features that you’d rather were not visually prominent, such as newer buildings in heritage areas.

A photo posted by FeeBee (@fobiness) on

The challenges of subterranean architecture

As architect and writer Witold Rybczynski points out in Slate Magazine, the discreetness of underground buildings is undercut by their practical needs for access – you can hide away your car park or information centre all you want, but it still needs a clearly labelled entrance, wheelchair access, emergency exits and vehicle ramps that will announce its presence.

Even for buildings that are not trying to disguise their presence, being underground presents challenges that surface-level architecture doesn’t have to face. Natural light and ventilation are features to consider for any structure, but they take on a new level of importance when your structure is buried in rock. The logistics of doing the initial excavation and construction safely also mean additional cost and time pressures – challenges those in the mining industry will know all about.

The other major problem that subterranean architecture faces is people’s resistance to living underground.

“The human mind is naturally predisposed to fear underground spaces, which it associates with dark, small, cavernous environments and a danger of being buried alive,” Mexican architect Esteban Suarez told the BBC.

To alleviate the discomfort people feel when they’re underground, the solution is to make sure that they don’t feel like they’re confined. Gunnar D Jenssen, an underground psychology researcher, said to the BBC that clean air and the perception of open space can do a lot to reduce people’s stress about being underground. Keeping underground spaces well lit also has a considerable effect on how comfortable people feel.

Locker Group has years of experience providing both the mining and architectural industries with products, services and advice. This means we have a unique outlook to offer companies or designers looking at subterranean architecture in Australia. Our architectural products such as expanded and perforated metal facades, which have proven value in conventional architecture, could be repurposed into underground architecture in exciting ways.

To find out more about what Locker Group offers and how we can help you with your next project, whether it’s above ground or below, please get in touch today.

The move towards sustainable architecture is all about addressing Australia's climate.

Writing sustainability into every step of the design process


The concept of sustainability is gaining prominence in architectural and design circles, but many of Australia’s buildings are still being built in ways that don’t account for our hot, sun-drenched climate. This year’s Australian Smart Skyscrapers Summit shows Australian architects are starting to pay attention, but as a whole the industry isn’t doing as well as it could. There are still too many residential and commercial buildings relying on energy-draining air conditioning to cool inhabitants. However, with a different approach to context and materials, our architecture could be more sustainable and better for people and for the environment.

Brisbane buildings aren’t optimised for the conditions

Many of Brisbane’s new apartment buildings failed to account for the area’s subtropical climate.

In November of last year, Associate Professor Rosemary Kennedy of Queensland University of Technology told the International Conference on Energy and Environment of Residential Buildings that many of Brisbane’s new apartment buildings failed to account for the area’s subtropical climate, and that this was a failure of their design.

“We need to see more use of fundamental architectural principles that are suitable for the city’s subtropical climate and lifestyle,” Professor Kennedy said. She recommended an architectural approach that “uses passive strategies and appropriate orientation with active participation of occupants to regulate the flow of heat and air, and control noise.”

Understanding a building's location and conditions is key to designing it to be energy-efficient.Understanding a building’s location and conditions is crucial to designing it to be energy-efficient.

Flexibility is key

Others in the field have shared similar sentiments about Australia’s lack of location-sensitive design. Architect Simon Disler told ABC News that flexibility is an important part of sustainable architecture, and one that is largely missing from Australian residential buildings. He argued that a building will perform better in terms of energy use and user comfort if it is built with its location in mind.

“There’s not really any expertise, and much consideration of which way it should face regarding the sun, which is going to give you your sort of key performance,” he said.

This criticism echoes Professor Kennedy’s primary complaints about Brisbane’s apartments, which don’t address the direct sunlight the buildings face. She said that the style of design has too much glass and not enough natural ventilation for the conditions – both issues that could be solved with a combination of sensible planning and appropriate materials.

The idea of passive design

Caroline Pidcock is a Sydney-based architect who focuses on sustainability in her work. She argues that the principle of passive design – designing a building to work with its location, orientation and climate – is one of the most important concepts an architect can employ in their work.

In Australia, sustainability often comes down to deciding how to deal with the sun.

“By working cleverly with that, you can create beautiful spaces with enormous amounts of natural comfort,” she told The Huffington Post Australia. “For me, that is a good aim – and it can be achieved for little to no cost.”

For Pidcock, sustainability comes from designing buildings specific to their situation, and in Australia, that so often comes down to deciding how to deal with the sun.

Locker Group products’ contribution to sustainable design

Locker Group has worked to develop a diverse range of architectural products that can be used to shade buildings from direct sunlight without reducing natural light or blocking the occupants’ view out from the interior. These include perforated and expanded metals, wire curtains and our Atmosphere facade system. All of these are available in a range of materials and finishes to suit any aesthetic style.

Here at Locker Group, we’re optimistic about the potential Australian architecture has to make the most of our climate, and we’re excited by the projects that are already taking advantage of sustainable design. We like to work closely with architects and designers to realise their ideas for efficient, sustainable buildings. If you’ve got a project you’d like to collaborate on with us, please get in touch and we can discuss the possibilities our products can offer.

Bizarre architecture doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Embracing the creativity of weird architecture


China’s ban on what it describes as ‘bizarre’ architecture has been debated and criticised in architectural circles. China’s State Council has said it wants the country to focus on buildings that are economical, functional, and aesthetically pleasing – and anything that doesn’t fit this description will be banned. At Locker Group we think there is always room for play and exuberance in architecture, and we celebrate the creative projects our architectural products have been a part of here in Australia.

China’s ban on weird architecture

In February 2016 China’s State Council released urban planning guidelines that banned ‘bizarre’ and ‘odd-shaped’ buildings that do not reflect Chinese cultural heritage. Forbes calls the move “the latest roadblock to creative expression” in China, as it is now the government who decides what architecture can be defined as ‘aesthetically pleasing’.

In recent decades Chinese architecture has had a burst of unique, elaborate architectural projects that coincided with China’s economic boom, CNN reports. This has lead to the country being described as an ‘architect’s playground’. Notable projects include the coin-shaped Guangzhou Circle, and the CCTV headquarters in Beijing, which locals have nicknamed the ‘Big Pants’.

The State Council’s announcement signals a return to more traditional architectural values, albeit with an environmental focus.

Embracing the bizarre in our collaborative projects 

Although we are all in favour of architecture that is more environmentally friendly and economical, this does not necessarily have to come at the expense of imagination or creativity. Architecture can satisfy the criteria of function and practicality while still being visually dazzling. We believe this is proven by some of the recent Australian projects that Locker Group has been able to take part in recently.

Take KUD House in Melbourne, for example, which rethinks what small houses can be, or the John Curtin College of the Arts, which uses folded, perforated panels to create a fascinating origami effect. Then there’s Frew Park, an award-winning example of how a traditional brief like a playground design can be made into something quite unique.

Here at Locker Group we love how weird and unusual architecture can get. The imagination and scope designers bring to their projects challenges us to push our products and our techniques to new limits. If you’re working on something new and exciting please get in touch and we can discuss how Locker Group can help make your weird idea into a weird reality.

Decisions about design and materials will determine how secure a building is.

The relationship between architecture and burglary


Architects consider many things when designing a building: location, environment, technology, aesthetic appeal, and most importantly the people who will use the new space. But not everyone will use a building the way the architect would like – criminals can take advantage of architectural features in unexpected ways. Luckily, Locker Group can offer some solutions.

The unintended beneficiaries of architecture

‘A Burglar’s Guide to the City’ is a new book by American architectural writer Geoff Manaugh that details the history of how burglary and building design interact. He argues that architectural decisions that are intended to benefit a building’s occupants can provide unforeseen opportunities for burglars and other criminals.

You can’t know exactly how people will treat a space, for good or ill, until it’s built and occupied.

When designing a building for people to interact with, an architect will have in mind a particular way they expect people to use the space – they’ll walk through here, they’ll stay on top of here, and so on. But burglars and other criminals will look at the space and see its potential for different interactions – I could climb through there, or jump from here to there.

“A burglar comes along and says, ‘Look, I’m not going to follow the path that you, the architect, have laid out for me,'” Manaugh told Citylab.com.

Criminals will inevitably see their own paths through a space, and the trespassers who filmed themselves breaking into West Ham Stadium in London show that it’s not just thieves who revel in these unintended routes.

Burglars see architectural features as potential entry points to a building.Burglars see architectural features as potential entry points to a building.

Locker Group’s answers to your security needs

You can’t know exactly how people will treat a space, for good or bad, until it’s built and occupied. But you can take steps to limit the opportunities for misuse, and protect your building from intrusions and theft. A good early step at the design stage is incorporating materials that make it hard to break in.

When worked into facades or fencing, Locker Group’s perforated and expanded metal can provide a physical barrier without blocking light. With the range of colour and texture options available, you can design a space that prevents unwanted intruders, yet still feels inviting to your desired audience.

For a more intense level of security, our expanded security mesh offers a cost-effective anti-climb solution. Its development was a collaborative effort between Locker Group and the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services, with a prison level of security in mind.

Expanded security mesh is available in steel or aluminium and can be galvanised, giving you options to suit the aesthetic and practical needs of your design.

Preventing crime though environmental decisions

In the paper ‘Designing Out Crime: Crime prevention through environmental design’, Susan Geason and Paul R. Wilson of the Australian Institute of Criminology discuss the idea that environmental factors can prevent crime not only by making it physically impractical (building a wall that cannot be climbed, say) but by making it psychologically unappealing. Ways to do this include making spaces well lit, or feel like they are under surveillance to dissuade potential criminals from the idea of committing a crime.

Manaugh agrees that design decisions can help with security, telling Citylab that the choices you make about landscaping or layout can help eliminate the blind spots that provide criminals with the opportunities to break in, for example.

Making buildings secure is partly a case of making smart, aware design decisions. It is also about making the most of materials that offer added protection to the structure. Locker Group products can be incorporated into many aspects of an architectural design, to provide not only comfort and delight to the desired occupants of the building, but obstruction and disincentive to undesired intruders. To find out more about how our architectural products could help your next design project, please get in touch today.

How can your business avoid the costs of corrosion?

The impact of corrosion – and what we can do to prevent it


Corrosion is a challenge for many industries, particularly those that use metal products extensively or in harsh environments. The effects of corrosion present a huge financial cost to the Australian economy, and can lead to potentially hazardous mechanical or structural failures.

But it does not have to be this way, as much of this corrosion can be prevented through awareness and design choices. Here’s how Locker Group’s industrial products and solutions can minimise the effects corrosion has on your business.

The widespread effects of corrosion

Research from the Curtin University of Technology suggests that corrosion may be costing the Australian economy more than $30 billion each year, and part of what makes that cost so high is how widespread the issue is throughout industries.

“Almost all engineering materials, such as steel, plastics and concrete, are subjected to corrosion and degradation,” says Dr Reza Javaherdashti, Curtin’s School of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Research Fellow.

The key to avoiding corrosion is choosing materials that will handle the conditions.

Professor Rolf Gubner, director of the Western Australian Corrosion Research Group, says that addressing corrosion not only saves money, it can help prevent accidents. However, decision makers do not always realise what a big issue corrosion will be, or how they can prevent it with educated choices.

“An appreciation of corrosion will, in many cases, provide opportunities for its threat to be removed during the design stages of a project, or a successful treatment program to be implemented,” he says.

The key to avoiding undue corrosion in your industrial workplace is choosing materials that will handle the conditions. We can help with this, as we offer a range of products that have corrosion-resistant properties.

Early planning can avoid the problem of corrosion.Early planning can help you to avoid the problem of corrosion.

Locker Group’s corrosion prevention techniques

Preventing metal from corroding can be done in three basic ways: coating, galvanising or using an alloy like stainless steel.

Coated metal

By covering metal with paint or some other coating it prevents it from interacting with the air or other substances in the environment that cause corrosion. This also has the potential for aesthetic appeal when a colourful or interestingly textured coating is used. Zincalume or powder-coated metals are examples of coated materials that we use at Locker Group.

Galvanised steel

Galvanising involves coating steel in a thin layer of zinc, which protects it from the elements. In addition to acting as a protective coating for the steel, the zinc behaves as a sacrificial metal – even if the steel is exposed to air, the zinc will oxidise first because it is the more reactive of the two.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel does not need to be coated because it effectively forms its own. The alloy of stainless steel contains various metals, particularly chromium, that react to air and water faster than iron. This reaction forms a thin film of metal oxides and hydroxides that protects the metal below. As Scientific American points out, the reason stainless steel appears ‘stainless’ isn’t because it has no corrosion – it’s because it’s constantly covered in a layer of corrosion that is so thin it can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Stainless steel is protected by a layer of its own oxidisation.Stainless steel is protected by a layer of its own oxidisation.

Our expanded and perforated metal panels can be finished with any of these techniques to minimise the damage of corrosion. For some architectural applications, where the look of a material is prioritised over structural longevity, metal products can be left untreated, so that the tarnished surface becomes a part of the building’s design. For industrial applications, however, the functionality and resistance of metal products will be the focus, both for the safety and financial benefits.

Corrosion and eventual degradation will affect all machinery and structures to some extent. But with sensible choices of materials that are suited to the conditions, you can minimise the impact it will have on your business. Get in touch today to talk about how Locker Group products could work best for your particular situation and needs.

Discover how public art can make a big difference in cities.

How the Greater Sydney Project aims to improve urban planning


A major initiative is underway to improve urban planning development in Greater Sydney. The project is called the “Greater Sydney Project” and has recently released its 40-year vision for how they imagine transforming the city for the better, which includes more art initiatives. Discover how improved architecture is one part of many in this plan and how Locker Group can be of help in urban planning and creating artistic public spaces.

The Greater Sydney vision

The Greater Sydney Commission has released its 40-year vision for Greater Sydney and a 20-year draft open for public commentary, according to Architecture AU. Some of the Commission’s stated goals are to support arts and cultural initiatives, green spaces as well as major infrastructure investment at large. In addition, they want to improve architecture by increasing housing and streamlining processes.

Sydney has a history of prioritizing public art as part of its urban planning.Sydney has a history of prioritising public art as part of its urban planning.

The unifying goals are to create a productive, liveable and sustainable city for all, the Greater Sydney Commission website stated.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the major driving force is the huge amount of immigration that the city has experienced in the last decade and the population growth to come.

The value and production of public art 

What distinguishes great urban planning from good urban planning is that it is creative rather than just efficient, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Though the Greater Sydney Project hasn’t explicitly stated any plans for public art, producing it could help them achieve their goal to establish more cultural and art initiatives.

It is important for cities and communities to have art in public spaces.

The Australian Institute of Architects explains their public art policy and why they think it is important. They believe that it is important for cities and communities to have art in public spaces. This is because it not only transforms the urban landscape, but can also create a sense of cultural and historical awareness; it is a means of engaging with the community. For this reason, public art is increasing in popularity in Australia and the world over.

What is required to have a successful public art project? The Australian Institute of Architects states that collaboration is needed with everyone involved, including the designers, the architects, the project manager and the community.

Locker Group’s experience with public art projects 

One project that exemplifies Locker Group’s success with public arts projects is its part in creating the iconic Float sculpture of 12 upturned umbrellas in Sydney. We made it in conjunction with Stone & Milnehouse.

Locker Group was in continual conversation with the artist. 

Locker Group designed the materials to make the large sculptured umbrellas look soft and billowing with two Transit stainless steel mesh pieces. Locker Group also shaped the pieces to fit the upside down umbrella skin. Our experts have the ability to mould metal into many different forms and create unique shapes so that we can realise an artistic vision to the best of our ability.

The artist of the Float piece had a specific environmental message that they wanted to communicate to the community, which was the need to have a greater awareness of climate change. Stone & Milnehouse explain that the upturned umbrellas represent the ability to collect water rather than just being a means to shield oneself from the sun and rain. It is a reminder of our need to conserve. Locker Group was in continual conversation with the artist in order to understand the message that they wanted to convey. Located in a busy intersection, Float now provides the Ponds community with a beautiful and moving piece of art.

Contact Locker Group today to find out more about how we can help you with our wide range of architectural products that can be used for public art pieces.