Site Design: Landscape and building codependancy

A site is ideally viewed as a total integrated element inseparable from a building. In a codependant relationship a building and landscape can work as an entire space for habitation. Rather than viewing a site as a singular plane where a building, as an object, is placed, a site can be viewed as a series of ecosystems dependent on orientation, views, topographies, vegetation and external influences. A building ideally interacts with its landscape and engages with its aspects in such a way that responds to the natural breezes, sun angles, rainfall etc. Rather than breaking up the site in broad strokes such as street frontage, rear aspect, a landscape and building can be designed together as a series of spaces that co-exist, relate to and invigorate each other.

A landscape is constantly being reinterpreted independently by the elements. A building is constantly being reinterpreted through use, by its inhabitants. The garden is the place to experience the elements, and a building can be a place to experience and understand the elements in comfort and shelter

The garden is an independent space that changes with time. It can be re-interpreted and redefined, and with time has a life of its own. A building also changes with time from within - as the occupants grow and change and it’s use is re-interpreted and re-defined. Built form can be used to define and give character to the broader landscape, as much as a landscape can add meaning to a built form. Our buildings aim to explore the relationship with garden and the broader landscape and ultimately aim to invigorate and inspire the everyday experience.


Renovating Heritage Houses

Brunswick 04 House

Works to this Brunswick house are typical of many of the inner city houses in heritage zones that we design. Generally with heritage houses the existing original house is kept intact, thermally upgraded and renovated as required. Opportunity to open up the existing building to the outdoors is also explored, in order to obtain natural light, air and views that would not have been originally there, thus increasing the perceived size and livability of these existing spaces. Retaining, upgrading and adding to existing heritage houses allows for the opportunity to connect with the heritage of a place as well as create individual and unique spaces in a contemporary home. Original features and materials including floors can add character. In this instance we retained the existing Baltic pine floor and used a 100% natural oil finish which gives the timber a very soft natural feel.

With each house we work on, we like to address the sun, to maximize solar access for passive heating and natural daylighting. In this instance we connected a new building to the rear of the existing heritage building - which was to the south of the existing building. The new building was designed to zone the wet areas together and locate a new family area directly adjoining the back garden. In order to maximize solar access, a north facing clerestory window was added to allow to high levels of northern light into the main living space all day, maximize the outdoor space and maintain a closeness to the surrounding garden .

Materials and finishes were carefully chosen to achieve the sustainable outcomes that the client sought, including using a geo-polymer concrete slab for thermal mass and sustainably sourced timber cladding.

The new building is a light filled garden room that transforms an originally internally focused heritage house into a series of contemporary living spaces with alternative room types for varying functions that suit different times of the day.


A sustainable alternative to cement based concrete

Geo-polymer Concrete Slab 

Brunswick House 04

This fly ash-based geopolymer concrete slab was poured on a job in Brunswick that is now complete. The slab is made from a cement free mix. Instead of cement, fly ash is used. Fly ash can consist of either a by-product of coal burning at a power station or as a by-product of steel production. As long as the fly ash is sustainably sourced using a fly ash based geopolymer concrete can reduce embodied energy of the concrete (ie the CO2 emissions) as well as have the advantage of absorbing recycled industrial waste. This type of material is still considered to be experimental, but once industry catches up to the science it will see a positive reduction in green house gas emissions.

Our clients in this instance were very keen to ensure their house was as sustainable as possible, and requested the use of this material. Our structural engineer approved the material prior to it being specified. The builder commented that the geopolymer mix was a bit stickier than normal concrete, and did take a bit more work to trowel finish. The initial material was quite green in colour, but once it dried it appeared just like a conventional concrete finish. In this instance we included hydronic coils in the slab, and the slab had a polished finish. The final slab was a bit softer than normal concrete, and a Hiperfloor finish wasn’t thought to be possible. We therefore researched the best applied finish for the slab, and with the concrete polisher’s advice chose a water based product. Overall the final polished concrete finish looked great, and our clients were satisfied that their home has achieved their sustainable objectives.


Brunswick House Sustainable Design Processes

Brunswick House

The thermal efficiencies of a house are essential to the physical workings of the house and to the comfort of the occupants. With correct orientation the outlook of a house can provide understanding of how the environment and seasons, specific to that site, work - where the sun rises and sets, where the breezes come from etc.

We have been working in the inner city of Melbourne, designing energy efficient, climate responsive houses since 2004.

Like many inner city families living ethically and sustainably can be difficult if the dwelling is an original heritage house. The owners of the Brunswick House approached us wanting to upgrade their house to current living standards, they wanted to create a vibrant dynamic space for their family to grow into.  A house renovation like this comes out of a combination of the owners’ vision and willingness to have a house that can open up, close down, respond to breezes and sun, be thermally efficient and also be a reflection of the owners’ personal beliefs. We not only responded to the owners’ sustainable and environmental objectives, but also the owners’ life perspective, in this instance the playful use of colour and timber were core to the clients’ preferences.

Our approach with the Brunswick House was to keep as much of the original house that was usable and upgrade to current standards. This included cleaning out the existing roof space and installing new bulk insulation, and installing bulk insulation to any opened up accessible walls. The floors were patched, re-sanded and sealed. An internal wall and chimney was removed and a new internal wall added in order for the room sizes to suit their new function. Large robes were added to the new ground floor bedroom. An open bathroom with a Japanese soaker bath and walk in shower was included in this front private zone of the house. The bathroom receives soft dappled natural light and garden views.  A European style laundry and large linen cupboard allow for a compact service area with plenty of storage. Efficient storage is essential to living in smaller urban sites and allows for more space to be allocated to the living areas zones. 

A central pivot space between the old house and new house separate the two buildings. This central circulation space goes beyond its function by lining the walls with bookshelves, pin boards and allowing space for an upright piano. A small slot window to the north allows for light and ventilation. The owners had a reclaimed pair of lead light windows, which were restored and then double glazed. The lead lights were integrated into a new window that has become a feature of this area. This space, which would essentially be just a corridor, is redefined as a central hub to the house providing a lively space for family activities and expression and a dense amount of storage for books, games, display of photos and family memorabilia.

Adjoining this threshold space is a central courtyard / secondary entry. This space was designed to suit the owners’ brief of creating a cooler courtyard space for outdoor relaxation in the warmer months, a summer outdoor retreat. A timber shade structure defines this space and allows for an ornamental grapevine to adorn it and create a shaded space in the warmer months.

Once entering the back room much of the owners’ vision to create a personalized space is evident. They specifically asked us to use cool colours and “lots of timber”.  Dappled light from the north and south exterior vines gives life to the interior which is almost forest like. Concrete floors were used for thermal mass and a one off special mix was designed to create a figured lighter tone at the request of the owner. A double brick boundary wall which was used for added thermal mass, is roughly bagged - this also adds texture to this space.

The owner is an avid gardener with the need for rain water storage and a desire to maximize the size of the garden, a hidden underground tank was installed beneath the garden. Tight urban sites don’t need to be restrictive in terms of how much garden or access to outdoor space a family can enjoy. In fact the under-utilized in-between spaces can add to the vitality of the internal spaces offering solar access, possibilities for ventilation and alternative garden views. The east boundary green tunnel could be a banal side access way and bike storage area, but with the owners use of plants the side access is transformed into a beautiful transition space. External timbers and unfinished steel are used for undercover bike storage and climbing plants add dappled filtered light.

As the architects we found the collaborative approach invigorating and helped us push our design in directions we may not otherwise have investigated. This resulted in a house that not only we believe represents our core philosophies but also the owners.


Reverse Brick Veneer Construction - Environmentally Sustainable Construction

Upper Plenty House

We designed this reverse brick veneer house around 10 years ago. This photo gives a good idea of how reverse brick veneer construction works and how the bricks, which are located on the inside of the building, add to the thermal mass of the interior, and therefore increasing the thermal efficiency of the building. 

In this instance a series of steel structural frames were constructed over a concrete slab. Steel infill framing was then used to create the external cladding frame.  Bricks were then laid with a 50mm cavity to the inside skin of the building. Once the bricks were laid there was a significant amount of heat retained even within the unfinished building. External bulk insulation and sarking was then installed. The bulk insulation helps to isolate the thermal mass from the exterior to slow down the cooling or heating up of the bricks from the outside. Finally a hardy low maintenance colorbond corrugated sheet was used as the waterproof skin.

We maximized the north facing glazing to provide ample solar access into the house during the cooler months to warm the polished concrete slab and internal brick veneer walls. The eave overhang provides shading during the warmer months to ensure the interior remains cool.

In summary reverse brick veneer construction is considered to be a sound environmentally sustainable construction practice. As the bricks are located internally they add thermal mass to the building interior which acts to stabilize the indoor air temperature. The bricks can be bagged or rendered or left as face brick. This form of construction works remarkably well to retain warmth in winter and coolth in summer



Glen Iris House – Green Wall

We completed this alterations and additions project to an existing house in Glen Iris a few years ago. The existing house already had good orientation to the living spaces. We designed a new building containing the sleeping zones with its long orientation to the west. Conscious of having the major orientation to the west we designed a green screen across the face of this wall. A simple galvanized steel and timber structure was fixed to this west facing brick wall to allow greenery to grow up the wall and protect the building from solar radiation and heat penetration in summer. Green walls don’t need to be complex structures that are cost prohibitive. A simple structure can provide the framework for plant growth that is thermally effective and also visually pleasing.

The main sustainable advantage of building a green wall is that it will provide insulation and shading to that wall in summer. In this instance using a green wall along a west facing wall provided some insulation against the low hot western sun in summer. The insulation is provided not only by the physical barrier of the plants, but also by the air gap between the plants and the building. Therefore holding the plants off the building is preferred.   We fixed a sustainably sourced Australian species cypress battens to the wall. A galvanised steel mesh was then fixed the battens. Cypress is a class 1 durability timber (above ground) so it is a good timber to use externally as it will have a longer lifespan than just ordinary hardwoods.  We typically specify sustainably sourced Australian cypress for some inground and above ground use.

By strategically locating a green wall on a building, it can be used to help insulate and shade a building and act to reduce the heat load on a building. This is a passive sustainable design strategy.



Hawthorn East House

Great to see our Hawthorn East House feature in new The Rug Collection photos.  

Luxico also features our Hawthorn East House as a luxury rental property. Here are some of the photos that appear on their website.


Project Information: Outdoor spaces

Northcote House 01

The urban produce garden at our Northcote house is set up to produce fruit and vegetables all year round.

Ceres Eco House

A photo from the archives. The Ceres Eco House which we renovated in 2009. We also added a new airlock that opened onto this existing carport with its integrated solar panels and electric car charging facility. It’s great that Ceres Environment Park exists to educate about sustainable living. 

Brunswick House 02 

This Corten Steel box is a locked storage space for a Cargo Bike

Brunswick House 02:  

The living space in this inner city house opens up onto a beautiful garden full of urban produce. The garden is watered via a 6500 litre underground rainwater tank that is hidden beneath the garden. 

Brunswick House 02:  

This south facing central courtyard was designed to be a shaded and cool outdoor space within this inner city house. It also acts as secondary entry from the side boundary bike storage area. 

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