Britomart development director Campbell Williamson led construction on The Hotel Britomart, New Zealand’s first 5 Green Star hotel. Here, he talks to Jeremy Hansen about the twists and turns and intense attention to detail that came with the design

Jeremy Hansen According to the certificate on your wall, The Hotel Britomart has officially been awarded a 5 Green Star Design and Build rating. 

Campbell Williamson Yes, it has. It was a nice accolade because we’re the first New Zealand hotel to get a Green Star rating. That’s a pat on the back for everyone, including the New Zealand Green Building Council, because being the first one, there was a lot of working through the interpretation of the documentation for the first time and how it all worked. 

What did it take to achieve the 5 Green Star Design rating? 

A lot of it is business as usual for Britomart. We’ve spent maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars more, in terms of direct cost, than what might otherwise have been the case, to get us to the 5 Star Green Star rating. The key elements are concrete mixes, glass, insulation, [reducing] plastics in the building, furniture, timbers and veneers, stains, landscaping and wellness within the building such as volume of fresh air, carbon dioxide levels and so on. 

Could you explain one or two of those elements in detail to give a clearer idea of what’s involved?

Sure. In concrete, for example, a big factor is in how far the trucks have to travel to get to us. You might be able to get sustainable concrete, mixed and at the best price, but if it comes from the Waikato, 100km away, it’s not going to work. You have to get a supplier closer to the site. 

What’s been the biggest challenge of building to Green Star standards? 

For us, the big cost is in following through all the documentation and ensuring that it’s right, and not just taking it as read when someone says, “Yeah, it’s all right.” Everything needs to be checked and double-checked and checked again. And it’s important that we get the terminology right because the certifications and labelling are not yet day-to-day business in New Zealand’s construction industry – there are highly technical specifications and nuances that can trip us up. 

It’s not so much the direct cost, it’s the management and the research requirements that have been the most challenging. There are products that the industry understands well and that everyone has become used to using without any question that they satisfy the building codes and that they are compatible with all the other components of the building process. But if a new product is substituted in because the usual product is not Green Star compliant, that new product requires thorough research and analysis as do all the other components the proposed Green Star product relates to, to ensure they are all equally compatible. For example, a change away from standard timber stains on our project triggered questions to revisit flame spread, colour selection, adhesion, availability, ease of application, safety, warranties, and so on. On first look, a product might have the attributes we need, but it’s not until we’re really digging into all of the product attributes that we can be certain it is compatible. But did all of that. 

So the Design rating comes first, and now hotel has received a Build rating, which reflects how closely the Design rating was followed in reality.  

The design stage was one part of it, but the delivery is another again. That’s where we have prove we’ve done what we said was going to happen on the drawings. Now the 5 Green Star Build rating has come through, we’ve proven the hotel is running as it should.