Tag Archives: sustainable design

a denser & more sustainable Canberra

Hot-air balloons fly over Canberra, which will be transformed by 2060.

After over seven years at Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn, I established MTarchitecture to focus on residential architecture. In conjunction with private practice I continue to undertake freelance work for them. As well as being the Principal Director of this company, Alastair Swayn is also the ACT Government Architect. In this article from the Canberra Times, Alastair writes about how he sees Canberra changing over the next 45 years…how it needs to change.

Research shows that Australian houses are getting bigger. Canberra houses are amongst the largest in the world, averaging upwards of 240 square metres. Alastair Swayn writes that this is up from 140 square metres 45 years ago in 1970. For context, I believe a standard 3 bedroom 1 bathroom ex-govie in Canberra is about 100 square metres. In contrast to this increase in house size, there has been a significant decrease in the average number of persons per household.

I find this dichotomy both interesting and somewhat obscene, particularly in the context of sustainability. Surely one of, if not the most fundamental tenet of sustainable design and construction, is to build compact houses and to forgo the third bathroom, home theatre, rumpus room, dedicated guest room and triple garage etc (even better would be to renovate and re-purpose an existing dwelling). Clever planning and flexible multi-purpose spaces within a house can often cater for the changing needs of todays families, without building separate spaces to cater for all potential eventualities. All things being equal, a smaller building footprint is going to be less expensive to construct, less expensive to heat and cool, and will be easier to clean and maintain. It could be argued that the money saved by opting for a smaller house, would be better spent by investing it in passive design strategies, quality materials and progressive energy efficient technologies.

When it comes to sustainable design…it is quality rather than quantity that matters.


when is sustainable design un-sustainable?

sustainable designBrockwell Park House, South London
Zac Monro Architects

I watched an episode of Grand Designs UK the other day, and it got me thinking about the notion of sustainability. The owners of this under construction house were talking about how their desire to be sustainable lead them to renovate and extend a 1950s house rather than knock it down and re-build.

Recycling and re-purposing of existing structures and materials is without doubt a key principle of sustainable design and construction.

However in this instance, the existing structure has been substantially extended outwards and upwards, at considerable financial and embodied energy expense. The existing fabric has been covered with multiple layers of new materials both inside and out, to the point where it is essentially unrecognisable. While the owners of this project may have had their hearts in the right place, their desire to build a large modernist statement has arguably undone all the good work of recycling the existing building in the first place.

The materials and architectural composition are lovely though.