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Professor Janis Birkeland
Discipline *
Architecture, Design Practice and Management, Urban and Regional Planning
View location details (QUT staff and student access only)

PhD (University of Tasmania)

Professional memberships
and associations

1.   National Co-President, Australian National Sustainability Initiative (ANSI) last 3 years

Its role is to initiate exemplars of Positive Development and to advance sustainability education.

This organization has members from a range of institutions, agencies, community organisations and businesses, such as ARUP, SSEE, AGDF, FWR, etc.  The team includes Yasu Santo, David Nielsen and Susan Loh from QUT.  Birkeland designed the Australian National Sustainability Centre proposed for the ACT and wrote the website materials.   See

2.  National Council Member, Australian Green Development Forum (AGDF) last 1 year

A balanced, non-profit coalition of members from development industries, government organisations and community groups interested in fostering sustainable development.

I helped convene and gave presentation at a joint SSEE, DEEDI and AGDF seminar on Positive Communities (derived from Positive Development) for 60 invitation only professionals and practitioners.  This should lead to a number of DEEDI supported ‘technical clinics’ on topics relevant to built environment sustainability and innovation to be run with QUT.  I was their representative to the Business Leaders Forum in 2010 in Canberra. see

3.  National Board Member, Zero Waste Australia (ZWA) last 3 years

ZWA promotes healthy communities without waste and meeting human needs through infrastructure design and resource use that works in harmony with natural systems.  Note that the website advertises that “members of Zero Waste Australia are leaders in net positive systems design” (ie reference QUT).  See  Affiliated with

4.  Vice President Canberra Environment Research and Sustainability Centre (CERASC) last 3 years  

Wide range of board members representing other organizations in southern NSW and ACT.  Will resign this year due to travel required.

5.  National Council, Green Infrastructure Network GINA last 1 year  

Conducting a major conference in 2012 in Brisbane  Affiliated with


Design tools, Eco-design, Eco-retrofitting, Ecosystem services, Green building, Sustainable architecture, Sustainable development, Urban design, Urban planning

* Field of Research code, Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC), 2008



 Sustainable Development


  • Sustainable Architecture and Eco-innovation
  • Sustainable Planning and Urban Design



  • Ph D (sustainability) University of Tasmania in Hobart 1993
  • Juris Doctor University of California at Hastings 1979
  • M Arch University of California at Berkeley 1972                     
  • BA Fine Arts Bennington College in Vermont 1966 

Selected professional experience:


  • Consultancy dealing with development and environment issues 8/2001 to 7/2005         
  • Senior Environmental Education Officer, Environmental Australia 7/2000 to 8/2001
  • Lawyer, SF City Attorney’s Office (on secondment from SFDCP) 1/1979 to 6/1979. 
  • Head, Land Use Planning Section, Dept of SF City Planning 3/1977 to 3/1980   
  • Head, Project Review Section, Dept SF City Planning 8/1974 to 3/1977
  • Project Coordinator, SF Community Design Center 1/1972 to 8/1974
  • Head of Chinatown Field Office, Community Design Center 1/1971 to 8/1972
  • Various architecture offices 1965-1970
  • Independent design commissions from 1/1965 to 12/1992

Professional registrations:


  • Registered as Architect in California 1977 (lapsed) 
  • Registered as lawyer in California 1980 (lapsed)

C.  CONTRIBUTIONS TO SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE 1.  Positive Development  management, planning and design from sustainable development to positive.

Positive Development is defined as that which expands both:

(a) the ‘ecological base’ (ie ecosystem goods and services, natural capital, biodiversity and habitats, ecological health and resilience, and bio-security); and

(b) expand the ‘public estate’ (ie the substantive democracy that ultimately depends on equitable access to, and expansion of, the means of survival) 

‘Positive’ means going beyond ‘restorative’ design.  It means design for nature as opposed to design with nature or like nature.   The built environment can not only produce clean energy and food, and clean the water, air, and soil, it can affirmatively support nature.   

2.  Design for Eco-services

This is a new approach to design to achieve Positive Development.  Due to the negative ecological footprint of existing development, buildings, infrastructure, landscapes can only be considered sustainable if they leave the environment and society better off after development than before any development occurred on the site.  This is possible if development generates ‘surplus’ ecosystem services and eco-positive off-site and on-site impacts that increase ecological carrying capacity and natural and social capital.  This form of eco-retrofitting can be done for less than the cost of doing nothing.  It is also called ‘Eco-positive Design’ (term suggested by J Frazer). 

3.  Sustainability Standard (based on pre-settlement ecology)

As the earth’s carrying capacity has already been exceeded, so-called ‘green buildings’ that merely reduce relative future negative impacts are not sustainable.  Urban development can only be sustainable if it increases the bioregion’s ecosystem resilience, integrity and services.   The Sustainability Standard’ is a new benchmark for development assessment that looks at the pre-development ecology of the site instead of ‘buildings of the same kind’.  This revolutionises all building design tools and assessment systems.

4.  SmartMode (Systems Mapping And Redesign Thinking)

This is a new planning and design methodology that considers factors previously not considered and is built around a number of `forensic audits’.  These specific audits are intended to create transparency around the resource transfers (metabolic flows) and power differentials amongst stakeholders.  Other tools, such as Lifecycle Assessment or Environmental Impact Analyses, have weaknesses, but can contribute as potential subsets.  

 5.  Eco-positive LCA 

Life cycle assessment and similar tools only measure negative impacts or sometimes, at best, reductions in negative impacts.  People do not think to design for net positive impacts as these do not yet register on the tools, indicators or even development credits.  A Life Cycle expert (D Jones) is now using this concept to develop a different assessment framework.  Likewise, Birkeland have developed a new framework and metrics to both support and assess Design for Eco-services.  This revolutionises current work in measuring ecosystem goods and services. See attached diagram.

6.  Eco-design Report process



Enormous amounts of resources are invested in predicting, measuring and mitigating the future negative impacts of development.  The alternative (or supplemental) Eco-design Reporting process instead ‘frontloads’ design, where the big environmental and economic savings can be achieved.  Project proponents explain where and why they have not achieved positive impacts.  This places the emphasis on positive design and design research, as opposed to measuring and mitigating negatives. 






Since moving to Australia, Prof Birkeland’s focus has been on addressing gaps in sustainability theory and practice in relation to the built environment and, in particular, means of converting physical, intellectual and institutional frameworks into systems that support both community and nature.  Her research builds on, and synthesizes, past practical experience (in art, architecture, planning and law), teaching, and action research projects.  As a sustainability consultant, she engaged in a series of on-ground applications of systems design as a means to address the barriers to change.  These action research projects enlisted stakeholder groups from local government, community and industry sectors to systematically address the impediments to the ecological modernization of the construction industry.  The subsequent academic research represent a logical progression from that base:  



Stage 1 (funded by the ACT government) provided a preliminary urban sustainability audit for the ACT to identify strategies for increasing urban sustainability.  The material flows analysis showed that neither high nor low-density models were sustainable within current ‘green’ approaches to development.  It argued that whole systems change in planning, management, construction and design are required to achieve truly sustainable development, and it proposed specific leverage points to drive positive systems change.   

Stage 2 (funded by Land and Water Australia) addressed the issue of linear resource flows from regions to cities.  It traced the transformations of selected resources in the region (eg wood, energy, soil and water) as a basis for developing urban-rural synergies.  It argued for a bioregional approach, but challenged the current state of bioregional planning.  The outcome was a management framework for mapping the interdependencies of urban and rural systems as required to reduce resource consumption and increase environmental flows.  

Stage 3 (funded by the University of Canberra and the Nature and Society Forum) examined the failure of prior applications of material flows and life cycle analyses in relation to her proposed ‘sustainability standard’.  The project showed how to integrate flows analyses with design processes, and environmental planning frameworks with ecological systems.  The resulting systems mapping process integrated input/output studies with a new method for identifying opportunities for transformative, system-wide improvements.  

Stage 4 (funded by the University of Canberra) applied the flows analysis approach she had developed earlier as a tool for generating new concepts for ecological retrofitting.  The goal was to go beyond zero impacts over the building life span by design that produces surplus eco-services and reduces total regional urban resource flows.  This design research formed the groundwork for the new eco-retrofitting prototypes that are being developed, tested and measured.

Stage 5 (funded by AusIndustry) generated 6 case studies in which construction industry stakeholders collaborated to develop innovation and commercialization strategies to generate systems change in built environment related industries.  These projects helped to foster new ventures among participants, such as an industrial ecology development in Wagga, and Zero Waste Australia.  These case studies provided analyses and on-ground experience that contributed to the SmartMode  planning method for Positive Development.



Stage 6 developed the concept of ‘Design for eco-services’.  To overcome the systemic impediments to sustainability, a comprehensive critique was undertaken on ‘best practice’ built environmental management, planning and design.  This critique led to comprehensive set of paradigms, design concepts and criteria, analysis and assessment frameworks, and new strategies and incentives. 



Stage 7 was the development of a step-by-step process for planning, designing and implementing Positive Development or Systems Mapping and Redesign Thinking (SmartMode).  The challenge is, of course, not only to compensate for embodied energy, water and waste, but to redress existing problems in the surrounding region.  A Positive Development would add social and ecological value of the urban environment by expanding both the ‘ecological base’ and ‘public estate’ beyond pre-settlement conditions.

Stage 8 was the design of an exemplar of Positive Development to show how a Positive Development could be realised in actuality.  While Birkeland did the design concept, this project has been assisted by pro bono advice and support by engineers, digital design specialists and LCA and BIM specialists and NGOs.  The proposal can be viewed on

Stage 9 developed the methods and metrics to guide the design and assessment of eco-positive design, called Eco-Positive LCA.  This concept has been published at a government workshop on ‘positive communities’ and used in teaching at QUT.  It combines positive metrics with negative ones to determine net positive possibilities.

Stage 10 is a book currently being written with a transdisciplinary and international team on ‘Communicating Positive Development’. 





























































































































































































































































































































































This information has been contributed by Professor Janis Birkeland.



  • Architecture and sustainability at QUT 7/2007 to present
  • Visiting Fellow, Australian National University 4/2004 to 6/2007
  • Taught professional development courses (UC and ANU) 8/2002 to 2/2007        
  • Senior Lecturer, Architecture, UC 7/1996 to 3/2004 
  • Guest lecturer, US Environmental Protection Agency, Chicago 2/2000 to 5/2000 
  • Director, Centre for Environmental Philosophy, Planning and Design, UC 6/1995 to 2/2000
  • Lecturer Architecture, UC 1/1994 to 7/1996  
  • Lecturer, Architecture, UTAS 1/1992 to 12/1993


Professor Birkeland set up and teaches the 4 subjects in a Minor in Sustainability which includes the following units.

  1. Greening the Built Environment (BEB902) looks at the basics of ‘passive systems’ and how to generate net Positive Development solutions, primarily at the building/landscape level; an architectural background is not required, but the focus is on buildings.
  2. Eco-innovation (BEB901) looks at the ‘creative process’ itself in terms of sustainability, across the different design disciplines; we focus on integrated approaches to environmental problem solving.
  3. Retrofitting for Sustainability BEB904 looks at ‘eco-logical design concepts’ from the products to bioregional scale; we concentrate on generating multi-functional solutions that increase ecological and social capital.4
  4. Greenhouse Solutions (BEB903) looks at what the different sectors can contribution in terms of business ‘solutions’, ‘appropriate’ energy and government policy; this may be run again as a guest lecture series with greenhouse experts from 12 different professions.

Birkeland has also been teaching:

  1. Sustainable Practice (BEN710) which is a postgraduate cross-disciplinary unit.




This information has been contributed by Professor Janis Birkeland.