With architects continually unearthing new ways to simultaneously elevate aesthetics and environmental performance, we talk to three leaders in residential design about how they are integrating sustainable features into their work and what they see on the horizon for climate-conscious design.
JAMES LODER, PARTNER AT WARDLE, MELBOURNE
“In the past decade, consciousness around sustainable design has grown significantly. Our clients are typically well informed and come to us with a desire to incorporate sustainable design features in some capacity. They tend to be knowledgeable about solar panels, and water collection and storage, and expect them as standard features, in addition to an insulated, well performing building envelope. One of our key focuses is on reducing embodied carbon.
To achieve this, we prioritise the use of locally sourced, high-quality materials such as masonry and stone, which have a low embodied energy and help to reduce the house’s carbon footprint.
One of our recent residential projects, The Limestone House in Toorak (pictured), benefited from a client with a passion for sustainability and an interest in high-quality design. The project used two international sustainability standards, Passivhaus and The Living Building Challenge, which have strict requirements. The Passivhaus principles were used to create a comfortable living environment with minimal energy use by producing a high performing building envelope; the thermal shell (walls, floor, and roof) was prefabricated to improve quality control, waste management, and time management during construction. The indoor air quality is excellent too, thanks to the house’s 100 per cent fresh air mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery. The Living Building Challenge informed the choice of healthy, local materials and an off-grid approach to energy and water management, resulting in a house made from high quality materials with excellent sustainability credentials.
The recently completed Bass Coast Farmhouse in regional Victoria is also off-grid, with solar arrays on the roof of the agricultural shed and freestanding frames in the field. The house is located near a significant conservation reserve, and its orientation considers the land’s shape and seasonal weather patterns. The goal was to retain the open and uncluttered landscape along the wild, natural coastline. Water conservation was a primary consideration due to the threat of bushfires. Rainwater is harvested from the roof of the house and shed and used for all potable water needs as well as for the property’s hydronic floor heating during the winter months and is also stored for bushfire fighting.”
DANIELLE PACELLA, ARCHITECT AND SUSTAINABILITY LEAD AT CUMULUS, MELBOURNE
“Over the last few years, we have seen clients become increasingly conscious of sustainable opportunities—from energy efficiency and material selection to overall carbon impact. There are more requests for energy-efficient appliances, LED light fittings and solar panels, as well as for rainwater capture and reuse systems used in garden irrigation.
This trend for sustainability allows us to consider other design possibilities and suggest alternatives that are both better for the environment and able to improve a home’s liveability. Our studio has an established green library of sustainable materials, fixtures and finishes that we like to use. Across our offices in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, our designs must respond to different climates, each with its own environmental opportunities. We always aim to use locally sourced materials and products; work with local suppliers, manufacturers; and support local tradespeople. These choices also flow on to landscaping, such as selecting native plants suited to their climate.
We primarily begin each project with passive design principles in mind. Australians love the outdoors, so creating spaces using natural cross-ventilation and sun shading is easy to achieve, given that we design spaces for indoor-outdoor living. We are fortunate to have access to some great natural building materials. And while it may not be possible to adopt solely local materials, fixtures and fittings, we are certainly seeing our clients shift towards—and celebrate—locally crafted products; this includes materials like timber and other natural products with a low embodied carbon footprint.
Looking to the future, I think we will continue to see an increase in demand for energy-efficient designs that have the added benefit of enhancing health and wellbeing. Similarly, as natural disasters such as floods and bushfires become more commonplace, we will increasingly look to integrate design with a response to climate resilience.”
ASCINDA STARK, PRINCIPAL-ARCHITECT AT CHESHIRE ARCHITECTS, NEW ZEALAND
“Responsibly sustainable design is becoming less of an optional and more of an essential part of every project— no matter how big or small.
At Cheshire Architects, we have begun to see some of our early environmental aspirations realised. With our client Cooper & Company, we set out to create New Zealand’s first Green Star-accredited hotel, resulting in a long journey of discovery, experimentation, and innovation. On the façade, this project carefully balances solid mass with transparency; we turned away from traditional floor-to-ceiling glazing in favour of a “constellation” in brick and glass, significantly reducing the building’s ongoing energy use. Sustainability and architectural intent are so entwined here that it’s often impossible to separate one from the other. Moments like these are where we start to see that our highest ambitions for architecture are not at odds with our fundamental ambitions for environmental resurrection.
On residential projects there might be an expressed desire to use solar power, increase planting and biodiversity, or carefully control sunlight and shade. But we often find that rather than pre-determining these outcomes, the best first step is to take a broader view of the whole project’s potential; this is when it gets really exciting, and we begin to create resilient architecture where sustainable thinking and decision-making is an ingrained part of the design process. It really is in everything from bricks and mortar down to the teaspoons.
For our studio, sustainability is not a burden on design but rather an opportunity for the curious designer.
We see architecture at its most ambitious as a means of protecting and enhancing our environment, creating both fuel for innovation and new beacons of design that compromise neither aesthetic ambition nor the planet. In 2023, we aim to measure embodied carbon in all our projects and align ourselves with international targets for carbon reduction and net zero buildings. Every year we must challenge ourselves to be better than the last, to reach further—we’re up for that.”