Talina Edwards (Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design studio) was a finalist in the Women in Sustainability category of the Sustainability Awards. We asked her “5 Questions in 5 Minutes” ahead of the Awards.
Talina Edwards’ award-winning practice is based in Wadawurrung country in regional Victoria. Talina gained her Bachelor of Architecture (Honours) and Bachelor of Planning and Design degrees at the University of Melbourne, and is registered with the Architects’ Registration board of Victoria. She is also a Certified Passive House Designer.
She is one of the leaders of the Australian Architects Declare movement, is on the ArchiTeam Advocacy committee, and is actively involved as an ambassador and in working groups with the Australian Passive House Association.
1.) Congratulations on being a finalist in the Women in Sustainability category! Do you think it is still important to have a special category for women in this field?
Women certainly don’t want to be treated separately (as “special” cases), as though we aren’t good enough to be considered in an “open” category, but the reality is that equality does not exist in our industry. (The same question could apply to whether we should still have separate “sustainability” awards for buildings!)
Unfortunately this bias extends beyond equality of women, to affect minority groups even more so. Prejudice against our LGBTQI community, and racism towards our non-Anglo peers is still disturbingly prevalent. Surely if we’ve learnt anything this year is that ‘we’re all in this together’ and it’s time to unite as equals for a better future.
I absolutely applaud the work of Parlour in bringing these issues to light. The statistics show there is still a long way to go. As a young architecture student, the role models of women in architecture were few and far between, however this is slowly changing. There’s a saying that “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” which could still be holding young women back from really thriving.
This is why these awards are still very important – to celebrate successes, give these women a voice, and show younger generations that they can reach their goals too.
In my case, to show that it’s possible to live in a regional area, have a young family, have a successful architectural practice, and be involved with advocacy/voluntary roles too.
Thanks to the Sustainability Awards for recognising this, and helping give the finalists a chance to show how they are leading with purpose, fueled by their passion, and making a difference. I’m absolutely honoured to be considered amongst such a strong calibre of inspiring professionals.
2.) What will winning the award mean for your career?
Being a finalist has already increased my confidence and provided a sense of validation for what I believe in and the work I do – only a year ago there was no way I’d have even considered entering this award! A (male) friend/mentor kindly nudged me in the right direction. Men also have a role in helping create a gender-equal world – by supporting their female colleagues.
I’m deeply grateful to be recognised as a finalist, and I hope it means I’ll have a platform to show authentic leadership towards a more sustainable and regenerative approach to architecture by sharing my passion and experience. I’m not comfortable with the idea that awards are about self-promotion/publicity, as I’m more interested in the bigger picture here; a greater sense of purpose. As a leader of the Architects Declare movement, an ambassador for the Passivhaus standard, and an advocate for small-practice architects, I feel these awards help give me more credibility in the industry.
I’m generally an optimist so I do have high hopes for building a better future, but hope alone is not enough. We need action. We have the skills and knowledge – all we need is the will to do what’s right.
As architects I feel we’re in a privileged position to be designing tomorrow’s built-environment today, so we have a responsibility to do better. Australians deserve better buildings and should expect more. I want to see this happen by not only focusing on the ‘carrot or the stick’ but also with the ‘tambourine’ approach – helping inform our communities about more appropriate, sustainable comfortable, healthy and resilient buildings. This leads to an increased awareness of not only what is possible, but what is desirable. When we speak to the heart of these issues, people are inspired to make meaningful changes.
3.) I’m sure that you are proud of all your projects, but is there one that stands out?
“Owl Woods Passive House” was our first completed certified passivhaus project, so it will always hold a special place in our hearts. This pioneering project is world’s best practice in terms of performance, efficiency, resilience, durability, quality, beauty, comfort and occupant health. It demonstrates what is achievable, but also necessary for more climate-responsive and responsible buildings. It was one of the first 20 certified projects in Australia, and has won a number of awards which have recognised it’s high sustainability credentials.
The brief was for a beautiful tree-change home that goes above and beyond expectations of what sustainable architecture is. The concept was driven by shared values for a home that connected with the land – both experientially and ethically. The design embraces biophilic design principles to engage with nature as the site context and sense of place were a fundamental design response. The layout allows generous visual and physical connections to the landscape, with natural light and materials, creating diverse spaces to experience and entice the senses.
Connection to the environment also meant responding to changing seasons and future climate conditions with a considered and resilient approach. The design evolved beyond simple “Passive Solar Design” concepts, to become an internationally Certified Passive House, strongly focused on occupant comfort and health, with very low heating/cooling demand.
The Sustainable Design philosophy extended further to embrace a more holistic view: a modest footprint favouring quality over quantity, flexible/adaptable spaces, bushfire-resilient design, materials with low embodied-carbon or recycled/recyclable, controlled ventilation for a healthy indoor environment, water harvesting, grey-water reuse, drought-tolerant garden with native plants and billabong to enhance biodiversity, all-electric, and solar-ready to aim to be a net-zero carbon building.
4.) Where and how did your sustainability journey start?
I’ve always felt a deep connection to the earth, and this is why I’ve been enticed by the concept of biophilic design and that our health and wellbeing is intricately connected to nature. Perhaps this stems from growing up in the leafy outer suburbs in the Eltham area – known for its arts community and eco-mud brick homes of Alistair Knox and his contemporaries.
My sustainability journey has led me to becoming a passionate advocate for the certified passivhaus standard which achieves healthy and comfortable indoor environments, while being more resilient in an uncertain future. I’m now learning how we move towards a more regenerative future that not only does less harm, but also heals our environment.
Like all parents, I want to see a brighter future for our children, however this really hit home recently watching Sir David Attenborough’s film “A Life On Our Planet” with my family. My 8yo became very upset half way through as he realised this was a story about his future – not only because he loves animals and the natural world, but that life on this planet is leading to disaster. We pressed ‘pause’ and reassured that it was going to be okay and that we could turn things around (as David went on to illustrate solutions) but a small part of me felt broken, knowing that I couldn’t promise him a happy ending.
It’s up to all of us. We owe this to our future generations. As Dr Suess said in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
5.) What is the one change you would like to see in the way we design our buildings to make them more sustainable?
I’d love to see all architects, designers, builders and planners sign up to their respective “Construction Declares” movements.
Australian Architects Declare a Climate and BioDiversity Emergency has eleven points of the declaration – to pledge our commitment to change, and to then act on these commitments. We help provide awareness of the tools & knowledge that are already available to us.
These are grassroots movements, and our aim is to empower all Architects to create a paradigm shift in our behaviour and take responsibility for action in our own lives and practices in a way that the creation of buildings and cities will no longer be the problem, but a catalyst towards the regeneration of the planet so that we can live in a constantly regenerating and self-sustaining world where we collaboratively work towards the health of people and ecosystems.
Each one of us has the power to make a difference, but collectively we can make an even bigger impact.