Designing Sustainable Houses
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.