Shaping Sanctuary: Editors in profile

Over the years since its launch in 2005, Sanctuary has flourished under the leadership of a formidable lineup of editors. Each of them had a unique perspective on sustainability and design, and each brought that to the magazine in their own way. On the occasion of our 50th issue, we spoke to our past editors about their memories of the magazine, their thoughts on the triumphs and challenges of the sustainable design sector and what they hope to see in the future.

Donna Luckman

Issues 1-5

The idea to launch Sanctuary was the result of a tipping point in conversations about climate change, Donna says. “Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth came out, and there was the ‘climate change election’ in Australia. We were in the middle of the millennium drought,” she recalls. “We knew people were going to be more interested in sustainability and energy in housing, and there was nothing actually filling that niche in the market.”

Renew, Sanctuary’s publisher, received a federal grant as part of the government’s Your Home Technical Manual program to launch the magazine. It was initially intended to be published twice a year. “It was hard to source houses to profile,” Donna says. “Nearly every house that qualified to be featured in the magazine made it into our first issue.”

For Donna, one of the most exciting things about starting the magazine was the instant community it created. “We got to talk to all the leading designers and architects across the country who were doing work in sustainability.” Many of those experts are still contributing today.

Donna marvels at how far sustainable design in Australia has come since that first issue. Back then, “people thought you needed new materials and techniques [to achieve thermal efficiency], but it comes down to good design. That’s become more entrenched in building practices today.”

As for the future, she believes the next frontier is apartments and strata. “It’s exciting to see the big builders launching new projects for medium-scale strata, but sustainability is still not totally embedded in apartment buildings. We need to put the regulations and incentives in place.”

After handing over the Sanctuary editorship, Donna continued at Renew as Communications Manager and then CEO for six years, stepping down in late 2019.

Michael Day & Verity Campbell

Issues 6-17

Michael and Verity applied to be the editors of Sanctuary as a couple and got the job together. It was a novel arrangement, but sharing the position was a joy, they say. “I loved working with Michael, we were really grateful for that opportunity,” Verity says.

Taking over from Sanctuary founder Donna, Michael says he appreciated her willingness to let them guide the magazine in a new direction. “Donna wasn’t possessive over Sanctuary, she just handed it over to us and gave us her full support for anything we wanted to do.”

Michael and Verity oversaw the magazine’s transition to focusing on the practical side of sustainable design. “We placed a lot more emphasis on ‘how to’ and doing,” Michael says. “We pulled back on the narrative side of the articles and emphasised the specifications, the materials, the products.”

The couple are also proud of chronicling the beginnings of the Tiny House movement in Australia and responding to the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

After their departure, Verity became a consultant for architects trying to publicise their work. And last year, she helped found Architects Declare, the movement that led hundreds of Australian architects and designers to declare a climate emergency (see Sanctuary 49).

She hopes that sustainable design practices will become common sense for everyone in the industry. “Sanctuary was always leading the conversation and there will always be a space for that,” Verity says. “My hope would be that every person – not just architects and designers – understands the basic principles of sustainable design because then we’re more likely to build the houses we need in this country.”

Sarah Robertson

Issues 18-27

Sarah joined Sanctuary when the magazine was in full swing, with a strong editorial voice and having just undergone a redesign.

“I remember my time as editor fondly mostly because of how much I enjoyed engaging with architects and designers and hearing householder stories – and working with the fabulous Renew team,” Sarah says. “It’s great to work in a role and at an organisation where you get to speak with people daily about how their work is achieving positive change.”

Under her tenure, the magazine covered topics like renovations and retrofits, hydronic heating and green roofs.

“It’s great to see sustainable design being taken further, with passive design and ‘green’ technology just the start and approaches such as regenerative design being pursued,” she says. “It’s also great to see growing leadership on and broader commitment to sustainable design approaches and outcomes by architects, designers, residents and more.”

These days, Sarah is a research fellow at RMIT University’s Centre for Urban Research in Melbourne, working on housing and the relationship between people and nature in urban environments. “I also took on a sustainable building project of my own and learned just how challenging it can still be to build sustainably,” she says.

RHS Greening Grey Britain project, with Hammersmith Academy School - portrait of Emily Braham

Emily Braham

Issues 28-34

Emily remembers focusing on homes that showcased living well without excess during her time at the helm of Sanctuary. “There were definite recurring themes around making the best use of space: the idea of taking up as little of it as possible, in terms of land and resource use, but also a kind of philosophical leaning towards not seeking more than is needed,” she says. “There was also the ongoing conversation about technology and how its advances could streamline design processes and make for more comfortable and efficient homes.”

Emily felt inspired by people she interacted with while editing Sanctuary. “I was really moved by the many individuals inspired to take brave choices to live more sustainably – those that were living in Tiny Houses, for example, or who had created a whole community around their commitment,” she says. “For me, it raised fascinating questions around what our responsibilities are – to nature and to those around us – as well as about what makes a ‘good’ life.”

She feels encouraged by changes she’s seen in the industry since leaving Sanctuary to return to the UK where she works with community gardeners. “It is heartening to see sector professionals galvanising around the climate emergency and though there is still so much to do, there seems to be an urgency that’s hard to ignore,” she says.

As far as trends in sustainable design, Emily pointed to a few emerging ideas. “People seem to be increasingly conscious of health and wellbeing and how we are affected by our environment, but also of how many of us are disconnected from nature,” Emily says. “So biophilic design and homes that make the most of their surrounds seem to be on the increase.”

Kulja Coulston

Issues 34-47

Kulja, our most recent former editor, remembers stepping into the role in 2015, around the time of the Paris Agreement, as global pressure around acting to reverse climate change was increasing. She says she used that energy as inspiration for her work at Sanctuary. “It was a bit of a kick up the pants for all of us to focus in on how we can drive market change through demanding better products and changing the supply chain,” she says.

She also recalls seeing what felt like a tipping point in sustainable design. “Energy costs doubled for electricity and tripled for gas. The cost to run a home was huge, and sustainable homes have generally low bills,” Kulja says. “All of a sudden the equation changed.” She also noted the increasing prominence of Passive House design, providing another option for sustainable architects in Australia.

Even as sustainable design edged closer to the mainstream, home ownership continued to be out of reach for many. This motivated Kulja to focus magazines on small-footprint homes and self-contained studios that showed sustainable living could be affordable.

Looking towards the future, Kulja hopes that materials take centre stage in conversations around sustainable design, as well as recycling. One of her favourite house profiles featured a home that did just that, with a design that allows it to be taken apart and recycled at the end of its life (Sanctuary 44, p58).

Since leaving the magazine in 2019, Kulja has joined ClimateWorks Australia, helping to push Oceania to comply with the Paris Agreement’s requirements of getting to net zero carbon by 2050. She also continues to host her weekly radio show on Melbourne community station Triple R. “It’s important for me to stay grounded in the community,” she says.

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