From the moment we move in, our lives shape the spaces we inhabit. Over time, the home becomes a tangible reflection of our core values.
What constitutes ‘good’ design? What type of homes will endure into the future?
Having designed forever homes for families from all walks of life, the team at R ARCHITECTURE has built a layered understanding of sustainability. With each project, we aim to create complete dwellings that are not only environmentally conscious, but also deliver both social and financial sustainability to our clients. Debunking the misconception that these aspirational triple-bottom-line outcomes must come at great expense, we see these overlapping metrics as essential to a strong, often more cost-effective, architectural solution.
Our Associates, Fletcher Hawkins and Gauri Pisolkar, discuss how we utilise methods such as right sizing, passive design, optimising floorplates, adaptive reuse, considered materiality and structural efficiency, to produce sustainable homes that meet client briefs and budgets.
Our process begins with an open mind, working closely with clients to develop a detailed brief and an understanding of the characteristics of their site and the unique opportunities it presents. A critical mindset is crucial in the early consultation phase, in order to discern what is absolutely necessary to the design, and what elements may be omitted – this allows us to find the home’s appropriate size. We aim to achieve what we refer to as ‘right sizing’.
“Finding a balance between client needs and sustainability is about prioritising ‘must haves’ over ‘nice to haves’ to ensure there’s no unnecessary space”, explains Fletcher.
“The money saved in optimising the footprint of a home can then be spent improving the quality of internal and external materials and finishes.”
A great example of ‘right sizing’ comes in our Humble House design, which, as the name suggests, is a modest home built with the goal of creating a simple, low-maintenance lifestyle suitable for downsizers. The house is zoned to create 3 pods; a living pod, a main bedroom pod, and a guest bedroom pod that are split by external spaces. This does a number of things. It enables privacy, allowing the occupants to retreat to different spaces, it brings in natural light and a connection to the outdoors and it means that parts of the house can be shut down to save on heating and cooling.
Passive design—the use of building orientation and site conditions to help control internal temperatures—is also a vital part of our approach. As Fletcher explains, it’s about “adapting designs to take advantage of site specific characteristics”.
The most well-known principle of passive design is orientation, but it’s not just about having a north-facing home. Window placement and shading and providing adequate air flow are also important considerations.
“Utilising high or low set windows to the east, is a great way to introduce plenty of light while controlling the amount of heat loss and gain in summer”, explains Gauri.
Leveraging site conditions, our Parkdale House is planned to enable the retention of mature trees on the site to help cool the house whilst also adding aesthetic appeal.
To improve cross ventilation and allow more natural light into homes, we carefully consider the size and shape of the floorplate.
Fletcher points out, “wide floor plans often restrict your ability to get natural ventilation and daylight into the centre of the home. Spaces end up being dark, which means you have to rely more on artificial lighting”.
For example, Hinkler House is planned using an C-shaped footprint, forming an internal courtyard in the centre. This enables greater light penetration and improved ventilation, reducing reliance on artificial lighting, heating and cooling.
Considered materiality and adaptive reuse
Resourceful material selection is another fundamental factor which can help ensure adequate insulation, reduced environmental impact, durability and ease of maintenance for residents. We work closely with our clients to make optimal decisions as this is an area in which there can be a lot to weigh up.
This may involve assessing the pros and cons of various materials including how far they need to travel, their thermal performance, aesthetic appearance, durability and cost as Fletcher explains, “often expensive, high quality sustainable materials need to be imported and their sustainable credentials are offset by the large distances they need to travel. Sometimes, a durable, locally made material will have comparable sustainability credentials when this is taken into account”.
We also enjoy identifying opportunities to adaptively reuse available materials. For example, our Brunswick House project uses recycled bricks for the paving surrounding the new home, redirecting material from landfill.
While its often not the first thing on our client’s minds, the structure of a home is an important factor in controlling both project cost and environmental impact.
“If an existing house has a good structure, interesting features or character, we often recommend the clients to retain and adaptively reuse it as part of the new build”, says Gauri.
Utilising emerging building systems like structurally insulated panels is another strategy we employ to minimise the energy consumption of our projects. This very precise building system ensures that the home is appropriately insulated and well-sealed, making it more efficient to heat and cool. When combined with our ‘right sizing’ approach, the higher upfront cost of this building system is offset by reduced energy bills, a more pleasant and controlled indoor environment and reduced maintenance due to the longevity of materials.
As our practice matures past the 10-year mark, we reaffirm our commitment to architecture which contributes positively to the lives of its residents, sits lightly in the environment and provides a real return on investment, for years to come.