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Ben Shields Dreamer Sustainable Architecture

A successful story of sustainability with Dreamer’s Ben Shields

19 April 2023 Read time: 5 min

We say the Kearney Group network is made up of dreamers, does, movers and shakers. Well, Ben Shields is literally a Dreamer. As the Founder and Design Director of DREAMER, a values-driven architecture studio in Melbourne, Ben is one to watch.

He’s also one of our lovely clients. 

We had the pleasure of chatting with Ben recently about his approach to architecture, DREAMER’s latest project, and how sound financial advice has helped him thrive through challenges.

Dreaming up a new era of architecture with Ben Shields.

 

The artist-architect.

 

Ben has always liked making things; even from a young age with the help of his parents and grandparents.

“I’ve done photography, animation, sculpture, music and design,” recalls Ben. Then he draws your attention to the similarities between these creative outlets, and the work of an architect.

“With photography, you’re creating a whole world within a frame.” Likewise with music, Ben says you “embody the mood and feeling you’re trying to create… an atmosphere or environment”. 

As an architect and designer, Ben feels it’s “a really special task to create an environment for people to inhabit”. He speaks openly about this as a privilege, and stresses it comes with the weighty responsibility of doing it well.

 

Bringing Dreamer to life.

 

Founding DREAMER was “quite organic”; the logical outcome of Ben’s desire to shake things up in his industry.

“I’d worked as an architect for six years, and noticed that there were lots of great businesses and people working in architecture that cared deeply about the environment. So I was surprised at how little sustainability I saw going into buildings.”

An idea was born. That is, “the idea of really having a crack at doing sustainability properly and undertaking serious research to understand how to put buildings together well… to have low ongoing energy use and still be really nice to inhabit and cost-effective to produce.”

Skip through a few hoops (ahem, a leap from full-time work, starting up a business, a pandemic and multiple build completions)… and today, DREAMER is a creative, design-led and values-driven architecture studio with 4 designers working to strengthen and enrich the relationships between people, space and nature.

It’s these values that Kearney Group is *so* here for (literally, given we’re here to help with Ben and his business finances, but more on that later).

 

Standing for sustainable quality. 

 

We chatted to Ben about what is important to him and the Dream Team (we couldn’t not go there). And, we kept coming back to two important principles: quality and sustainability.

“In doing art, I worked a lot with my Dad,” says Ben, referring to his father who’s also a renowned architect and the ‘Shields’ in Rosenthal Munckton & Shields.

“He’s a perfectionist and has this way of doing things properly. And I think that really translated into what we do at DREAMER.”

For Ben, however, quality and sustainability are actually synonymous. “Not only do we like to create these special spaces for people, sustainability is a central focus.”

Ben says his goal at DREAMER is to design and construct buildings in a way “that doesn’t adversely impact people elsewhere in the world, doesn’t adversely impact the natural environment, has low ongoing energy use and helps people to live sustainably with low waste”.

Ben follows up with a troubling stat. He tells us that “buildings and the construction of buildings uses about 30% of global energy yearly.” Moreover, “construction of buildings accounts for 40% of global material consumption.” Um, yikes.

This tells us what DREAMER is doing is not only important, it’s urgent.

 

Urgent, but no easy feat.

 

Unfortunately, incorporating sustainable principles in design and construction is no easy feat.

Moreover, sustainability is still seen as cost-prohibitive by many traditional architecture firms. At best – it’s a nice to have. More likely, it’s chalked up as a balance sheet “cost” in our current economic system that fails to properly account for non-financial costs/benefits (i.e. the real benefits of: minimising construction waste, making better material choices, supporting labour and working conditions, reducing a building’s and subsequent inhabitant’s ongoing operating costs, water usage and waste…).

So Ben says if you’re going to have a crack at sustainability, it’s essential to:

  1. get comfortable with loads of research.
  2. get a solid team around you and ensure you’re all really committed to doing it well.
  3. work on interesting projects with like minded professionals.

Buildings and the construction of buildings use about 30% of global energy yearly. The construction of buildings accounts for 40% of global material consumption.

Ben Shields
Founder, DREAMER

Ben Shields Dreamer Sustainable Architecture Indoor Kitchen

Beautiful and better for the environment.


Livable, sustainable Barkly Street.

Meet 388 Barkly Street. It’s an ethical, 11 town-home development in Brunswick, Melbourne. Barkly was led by DREAMER, in collaboration with Breathe Architecture who were brought on for peer review, design guidance and their sustainability expertise.

Ben tells us the aim was “to attract a new cohort of people to the area [specifically] younger families working at the hospital or university precincts that might otherwise be inclined to buy a house and renovate.”

So, DREAMER needed a design that would blend the benefits of living in a house (like “really good external storage, ample parking, EV charging facilities, great access to the outdoors and planted areas”) with the amenity of dense community and apartment living.

“We need to move to a more dense city in Melbourne,” says Ben, “to enable a whole bunch of positive benefits… including better environmental, health and economic outcomes.”

And, of course, in true DREAMER fashion, Barkly Street also boasts some really impressive sustainability features, including:

  • a large solar array
  • electric car charging for all spaces
  • 100% Green Energy via an embedded network
  • centralised hot water
  • all electrical appliances (no gas)
  • sun shading to northern windows
  • a large central bike garage (with maintenance facilities)
  • rainwater collection and water efficient appliances
  • a high performing thermal envelope with an average NatHERS rating of 7.5

In summary: IMPRESSIVE.

 

Preserving Melbourne’s beauty.

Barkly Street was built within an existing warehouse shell – in a notable building, in the oldest part of character-filled Brunswick.

“It’s critical to preserve as much of older buildings as we can,” says Ben. “It helps to connect them back to each suburb’s feeling,” he explains.

“Also from a sustainability perspective, it’s always going to be lower energy use to keep a building intact and retrofit as opposed to knock down and rebuild.”

Ben Shields Dreamer Sustainable Architecture Barkly Street 3

Considering residents and community.

DREAMER also considered resident well-being in their designs for Barkly.

“We wanted to ensure that people would be encouraged to walk and to ride their bikes, but also, when they were inside, still feel connected to nature. So there are lots of views to vegetated areas. It’s also an almost completely native, drought-tolerant planting schedule.”

DREAMER invited community and industry collaboration for the Barkly Street project. For example, the ‘Rain Bench’ was completed with Fletcher Barnes from BMDO.

“We thought it was a beautiful idea that a simple bench could be half inside the building and half outside the building,” says Ben. “And, when it rains, it would make a lovely noise… It felt like a physical representation of this idea of bringing the outside in.”

As for the apartments themselves? Beautiful.

“Working with that existing brick warehouse, it was really important to have a very paired back material approach because you’ve got this beautiful, very characterful brick exterior. It’s super rough, with bits of paint on it and there’s a part of the building where there was a fire in the early ‘90s, so it’s blackened.”

“As a response, we chose lots of softer materials and softer colours. It features lots of raw timber. There’s also a really lovely soft concrete material and lots of planting.”

Getting advice to create creative space.

 

Ben first came to us for assistance with compliance and business planning. Design skills? Top notch. Passion for bookkeeping? Not so much. 

When it came to managing the dollars and cents, Ben says it was “completely foreign.” 

“I felt sort of ridiculous trying to do that when it was taking me away from good design work”

“I thought if I could engage someone who was really exceptional, it would allow me to concentrate on things that were really important to my role,” he explains.

Enter stage left, Kearney Group.

Ben Shields Dreamer Sustainable Architecture Black Kitchen

Once we had Kearney Group engaged, it was just a relief, to be honest. From the outset, it was clear that you guys were very good.

Ben Shields
Founder, DREAMER

Beyond supporting DREAMER with business advisory, bookkeeping and compliance services, we’re also working with Ben personally… because, you know, Integrated Advice and all. 

Here are a couple of Ben’s takeaways from our partnership.

 

Confidence in cash flow.

 

Ben says understanding and tracking cash flow has been super helpful.

“Kearney Group was able to provide a simple cash flow analysis tool that I use regularly. The team helped me understand the position of the business, how to really use the balance sheet and understand reports properly.”

Now, Ben says “often you think things are worse than they are. Being able to navigate the reports and have the tools I now have in place allows us to understand exactly where the business is sitting. This has been a massive source of stress reduction.”

That’s what we love to hear.

 

Financial literacy and feeling fully fledged.

 

Ben says he can now say that DREAMER is a successful “legitimate small enterprise” (yay go Ben!). He feels confident that they’re doing all the “right things” in a tax-and-finance-y sense. 

He says “now, I know how to be compliant, how to meet the budget and understand what all the different parts of the business are. I now understand the way our tax and other responsibilities affect the performance of the business. I feel really well supported by the work Kearney Group does.”

 

Dreaming up his next chapter. 

 

As Ben moves to a more strategic role in the business, he’s looking to the future.

“We’ve got an upcoming business venture that we’re very excited about. It’s focused on delivering sustainable housing and we’ll be launching in the next couple of months. We feel there are some great opportunities to do housing in a different way that allows us to deliver on sustainability really well.”

We can’t wait to hear more about the new project (psst, we might even let you know when it launches) and to see more of DREAMER’s creative, conscious work in the wild.

Often you think things are worse than they are. Thanks to Kearney Group, being able to navigate reports and having tools in place to allow you to understand exactly where the business is sitting has been a massive source of stress reduction.

Ben Shields
Founder, DREAMER

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