Rainwater harvesting for Sydney’s arts precinct

Wednesday, 10 August, 2011

A new rainwater harvesting and reticulation system that will provide 100% of non-potable water to all organisations resident at the Walsh Bay arts precinct will be launched in September.

This major element of Sydney Theatre Company’s (STC’s) comprehensive, award-winning Greening The Wharf project has been designed by leading Australian projects firm Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) and is the first of its size and scale in Australia and one of only a few in the world. Rain is captured from the vast roof area of The Wharf (equivalent to half the playing field of the Sydney Football Stadium in size) and stored in a huge pipe that is suspended and runs 500 m underneath the pier, with an even distribution of weight across the entire structure.

All organisations resident at The Wharf will benefit from the system, including STC, Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, Australian Theatre for Young People, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Regional Arts NSW, Accessible Arts, The Song Company, Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children’s Choir.

The total amount of water saved annually is expected to be in the vicinity of 11.3 million litres - the equivalent of nearly two Olympic swimming pools. The plumbing work has been implemented by Grateholt Pty Ltd and the project managed by NSW Public Works.

The rainwater system has been funded by the NSW Climate Change Fund through the Office of Environment and Heritage (via a combined application with Arts NSW, which administered the grant on behalf of all tenants of Pier 4/5).

The system is another major element in STC’s Greening The Wharf project, following the 2010 installation of over 1900 solar panels on the roof of The Wharf; the second largest rooftop solar array in Australia. Greening The Wharf is believed to be the first program of its kind for any theatre company in the world in its scale and comprehensive approach to sustainability. Other components include behavioural efficiency programs, improved recycling and reduced waste, and an extensive community engagement and education plan.

In addition to the investment made by the NSW Government, the Greening the Wharf project has received substantial support from the Australian Government’s Green Precincts Fund. Greening the Wharf is funded by a unique private and public partnership involving philanthropy, corporate support and federal and state government funding.

STC is working to minimise its levels of energy and water use through the introduction of new technologies and simple changes across all business operations. For example, with the support of Caroma Dorf, the company has upgraded its bathrooms to help reduce water consumption. Featuring the latest water-saving technologies and by replacing all inefficient toilets and urinals, the company has reduced its water consumption in the bathrooms by over 20%. The NSW Government has replicated this initiative at Sydney Dance Company and Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Originally an ironbark timber pier constructed to load cargo on and off ships tied alongside it, The Wharf had long been derelict and inhabited only by seagulls when it was handed over to STC in 1984. With significant support from the NSW Government, the building is now acknowledged as an international benchmark for adaptive re-use, skilfully blending sound urban design, conservation, cutting-edge technology and the freshest art.

The Greening the Wharf program shows how all buildings - even heritage-listed ones - can be made more sustainable.

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