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A Hero's journey

With 149 dwellings – including a suite of short-term serviced apartments – plus cafes and shops, Hero Apartments on Russell St in Melbourne’s CBD is home to a diverse high-rise population.

A bit of history

The building started life as the Russell Street Telephone Exchange and Post Office, completed in 1955; a bas-relief sculpture of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, and Mother Earth holding a telephone dial still adorns the façade. From 1999 to 2001, the iconic building was extended and remodelled into apartments and retail spaces by Melbourne architect Nonda Katsilidis. Six new floors were added, featuring pre-rusted Corten steel.

Today’s Heroes

Today, Hero Apartments has an active Owners’ Committee that has been working hard to introduce a range of initiatives to improve the liveability and environmental sustainability of the building. The once-tired foyer has been transformed in art deco style with a touch of the industrial. Lighting in the common areas has been converted to energy efficient LED, saving money and reducing maintenance costs.

Ventilation control

Facilities Manager Dan Hanily is particularly proud of the ventilation control system that’s been retrofitted to help regulate heating and cooling in common areas. Installing a full building management system was too expensive, so Dan and a consultant engineer figured out a simple solution to monitor the building’s airflow and feed the data to Dan’s office. Now he can set the ventilation fan to respond optimally to external temperatures. “Where it used to take four or five days to cool the building after a hot spell, [it] now cools quickly overnight,” Dan says. The system cost only around $5,000 to install, has resulted in more appropriate temperatures in the common areas, and will reduce the building’s annual electricity bill. Dan’s advice for others wanting to launch similar initiatives is “do your homework, get as much data as possible, and make sure you find the right contractor to do the work – they have to be on the same page to achieve what’s required.”

Going solar

Last year, after twelve months of careful planning and with the help of the Sustainable Melbourne Fund, the Owners’ Committee was delighted to oversee the installation of 200 solar panels on Hero’s roof. They will generate around 53,000kWh of electricity each year – enough to power 13 average homes – and will further reduce the cost of running the building’s common-area lighting and ventilation systems. It was a big project, but went smoothly: “We went straight to [Melbourne City] Council for advice on suppliers, and within a short time we had detailed propositions from experts in the field,” says Tricia Caswell, resident and Committee member. “The solar panels will be paid off within seven or eight years and will produce ongoing savings on our electricity bills. We’re all proud to live in a boutique building, but now we have the feel-good factor that comes from doing something good for the environment as well.”

Worms in the carpark

Hero is currently running a worm farm pilot program to expand the building’s waste management options and reduce the organic material going to landfill. Ten bins of contented worms are housed in a corner of the carpark, with about 30 apartments signed up to contribute their food scraps, and it’s going well. “More bins will be added soon as we have too much food for the worms to get through,” says Dan.

Making it happen

Tricia’s top tip for making things happen in your building is to get someone to be the champion, especially for big projects requiring considerable time and energy. She adds, “Make full use of any relevant expertise and connections among your residents, whatever it is you’re working on, and provide as much transparency up front as you can to make sure people’s questions are answered or acknowledged.”

“With so many options now available to green your building there’s no reason why more high-rise towers across Melbourne shouldn’t be looking into their options; the money saved can be spent on other areas of common property or put back into researching other options for sustainability.”
Dan Hanily, Facilities Manager

Hero building