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SA Water House, Adelaide, Australia

Thursday 06 Jan 2011

Three steps to a better business

SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia
SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia SA Water House by HASSELL and DEGW in Adelaide, Australia
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Achieving operational effectiveness through innovative design 

SA Water is the major tenant at SA Water House. The organisation provides water quality testing, research and a public awareness role for the state of South Australia. SA Water House was built via an integrated design programme led by SA Water and workplace strategy consultants DEGW, in conjunction with the building owner, the Catholic Archdiocese and the development team headed by HASSELL. The design process relied heavily on objectives generated from SA Water's cultural change programme, and developed through a strategic briefing process undertaken by DEGW.

The building houses the Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) (including both laboratories and workspace), a business unit of SA Water internationally recognised for excellence in providing scientific services for water, wastewater and sludge, and the Learning Centre (LC) - a new capability connecting SA Water with the general public and, in particular, school children. The Centre also houses the Australia Asian Water Centre (AAWC) which includes various water industry bodies who display materials, organise forums and hold meetings. Another government organisation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a sub-tenant.

SA Water is a statutory body whose operations are subject to public and political scrutiny. Its function also means SA Water House is a site of Critical National Infrastructure. These constraints, in combination with the desire for an egalitarian workspace, in-house water testing laboratories, a strong client interface and public learning space placed some unique requirements on the commercial building and fit-out.

Significantly, the building outcome is the result of an extensive culture change programme initiated within SA Water (in 2002) after an internal review identified a number of significant challenges to the organisation. These included changing business requirements, a disconnected metropolitan presence across three sites, substandard accommodation, a pressing need to attract (and retain) a new generation of employees in the face of imminent generational change and a skills shortfall. In short, the organisation's operational effectiveness was in jeopardy.

In response to these issues, and targeting world leadership in water quality and sustainability, SA Water developed a long term business and accommodation strategy based on three key change processes: a holistic process of change - the changed management defined the accommodation strategy (not the other way around); extensive consultation across the organisation to review/reinvent ‘how we work', and reinventing the building procurement process.

The intent behind the innovative approach, process and design of this project - based on first principles, was to deeply instill social, environmental and financial sustainability. In addition to addressing property challenges, the development of SA Water House was seen as a powerful mechanism for continuing to drive wider organisational change and transformation. The outcome was a ‘great project team' between SA Water, key consultants (private and government) and the development team. From the start, interaction was based on a high degree of transparency, engagement, trust, knowledge and ‘pain' and ‘gain' sharing.

The intent is encapsulated by Anne Howe, the new Chief Executive of SA Water who stated in 2001, at the beginning of the process, that: "a new workplace that encourages interaction, team work, and greater efficiency and effectiveness is required to better support our people and accelerate continual innovation."

Workplace and Performance Improvements: the change management process, orchestrated by SA Water's People and Culture department, generated staff feedback and longitudinal data which provided the foundation of the design development. DEGW undertook the strategic briefing and initial workplace survey (2005), accommodation strategy (2006) and post occupancy survey (2009). Their post occupancy process included an online workplace survey (WPS), focus groups and statistical survey analysis. An indoor environmental quality (IEQ)-focused post occupancy survey was also conducted by CETEC and a travel survey undertaken by SA Water.

From the initial briefing stages (2005-2008) ten project principles were distilled to guide design and development. The post occupancy survey has shown that all ten principles have been realised as a result of the co-location to SA Water House (see image 5).

Workplace Survey Summary: the survey results show that the organisation has made significant improvements to the physical workplace and the way people work. The high level findings of the post occupancy survey shows that SA Water House: helps create the right culture for SA Water; makes staff more productive by enabling informal collaboration; has significantly increased staff pride and satisfaction; has produced an overall change in workplace performance.

Of the 13 high level workplace categories measured, the Workplace Image and Layout category showed the largest positive change in performance. At the other end of the scale, the negative ‘at your desk' response highlights the perennial productivity issue associated with balancing collaborative and individual work in an open plan environment. Quiet rooms are available and alternative space use is encouraged but the organisation acknowledges improved protocols and processes are needed (see image 6).

The poorer than expected performance of the Indoor Air Quality was mainly attributed to issues with temperature, and is currently being addressed as part of the ongoing tuning of the building systems.

Factors affecting Productivity: DEGW's statistical modelling of the post occupancy outcomes shows that productivity is not a simple measure but a function of a combination of workplace factors. It includes: the ability to concentrate; the capacity for informal meetings and collaborations; having everything needed to work effectively.

Being able to pinpoint and tweak those workplace elements which are underperforming means performance, and therefore workplace effectiveness, can be recalibrated over time.

These enhanced productivity factors in combination with high levels of natural light, energy efficiency, water efficiency, low volatile organic compound (VOC) materials, improved IT capability and improved staff engagement indicates the building sets a new standard in office accommodation within Australia. The change to culture and accommodation has also repositioned SA Water as an employer of choice. This has been demonstrated by the fact that 440 graduate applications were received in 2009, compared to an average of 150 in previous years.

This was a joint submission by HASSELL and DEGW.


The Learning Centre (LC) within SA Water House is a new inclusion to its capabilities. It connects the organisation with the community by providing educative engagement with the general public and, in particular, school children. Its adjacency to the laboratories, enclosed by large glazed sections for high transparency and connectivity, also provides a demonstration of the Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) in action. Social inclusion and public accessibility has been facilitated and encouraged despite the need to create a secure environment in accordance with the site's ‘critical infrastructure’ status. In addition to this, SA Water House has been designed to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles.


In order to attain a 6 Star Green Star (World Leadership) base building and fit out accreditation by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) the design needed to include cutting edge equipment and design features to achieve the targeted water and energy savings. These included: a facade designed for passive solar control, particularly the significant west orientation which has a fritted glass double facade allowing external views and abundant daylight; laboratories which are both ‘loose fit’ for removal at end of lease and energy and water efficiency commensurate with the building’s 6 Star Green Star target; co-generation and heat recovery strategies; rainwater and Class A recycled water supply for toilet flushing and water tower cooling augmented via supply from the new Glenelg to Adelaide Pipeline project (GAP).


The development of SA Water House was founded on a strong business case which estimated a 3-5% financial benefit to the organisation. As a statutory body, any cost and operational savings made by the organisation has a positive benefit in terms of utility cost. Specific areas of financial improvement identified in the post occupancy review include: reduced cost of churn due to standardised workstations and upgraded technology (approximately $150-200,000 p.a.); reduced travel time and cost between sites (estimated $300,000 p.a.); decreased paper use ($50,000 p.a.); reduced duplication between three sites ($1.25 million p.a.). The new building can monitor and measure water and energy consumption to make improvements where possible – something not possible at the previous sites.


In line with its 6 Star Green Star objectives SA Water House is designed to use 70% less potable water and 60% less energy than a conventional office building. In construction 90% of construction waste was diverted from landfill. SA Water estimates waste recycling has increased by 50% and paper use has reduced by approximately 30%. Co-location of the three groups to the CBD location has reduced staff travel by car by 15% from 50%. Travel by bicycle has increased by 6% to 10% and public transport use has increased by 20% to 47%. The laboratory fit-out needed to achieve an environmental performance equivalent to the building’s Six Star Green Star rating. This has led to the development of a pilot Laboratory Green Star Rating Tool in consultation with the GBCA, now in use throughout Australia. It was also aligned with the Labs 21 Environmental Performance Rating.


The overall assessment of the indoor environment factors (by CETEC) suggests a neutral to slightly positive productivity gain, with an overall potential of 5-10% once the building is fully tuned. The WPS shows that the building has been successful in creating an environment that encourages collaboration and interaction, promotes access to people, resources and information. It bolsters staff pride and the overall image of SA Water to the community. Throughout the post occupancy process the underlying sentiment expressed by the staff was that SA Water House has created an opportunity for culture change and organisational transformation that is in the process of being realised. Comparison between pre and post occupancy surveys has established that significant improvements are emerging with a high potential for sustainability into the future. The relocation and new facility have been critical factors assisting the improved performance of the organisation. This supports our submission that we believe SA Water House has improved both the ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ of the organisation it houses.

Key Facts

Status Completed
Value 0(m€)
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