When it comes to caring for the environment, we’re all pretty used to the concept of “The Three R’s”, in terms of sorting our household waste, upcycling furniture, or embracing vintage fashion… but what about when it comes to buildings?
As an architect with a passion for sustainable design, I dream of the day where we can ALL live in affordable, comfortable, healthy, beautiful and sustainable homes that have a strong connection with (and care for) our natural environment.
At the rate we are consuming the earth’s resources, Australians live like we had FOUR planets to provide for us1. Our current ecological footprint is not sustainable, and in order for our childrens’ children to be able to live in a world that provides enough for their needs, we need to make some more responsible decisions now.
Buildings consume around 40% of our planet’s materials, and 30% of energy resources2. It really is time to rethink our homes. It is not just about “adding” on solar panels and water tanks (although that all helps), there’s much more we can do to improve our mindset an create a more sustainable future. Continue reading
Our first event was at the Ballarat Show, this past weekend. Three full days of creativity, fun, play, innovation, inspiration and learning a bit about sustainability, whilst building a giant cubby house out of recycled materials! We were very fortunate to receive a “Community Impact Grant” from the City of Ballarat to help fund the project. Most of our materials were donated – including some very large boxes, or purchased from the fabulous recycled collection at Reverse Art Truck (formerly known as Reverse Garbage). These included boxes, egg cartons, cardboard tubes, cereal boxes, card, bottle tops, synthetic grass, timber dowells, ribbons, magazines, straws, cork, pipe-cleaners, fabric and more!
Just some of our materials… we had LOADS!
We were a spin-off from an “Eco-Cubby House” event at last year’s show, and were also very inspired by “Caine’s Arcade” – a 9yo boy who built an entire games-arcade from cardboard! Check out the heartwarming video about him, and the “Imagination Foundation” that resulted… We even joined our project in their Global Cardboard Challenge (which is all about engaging kids all over the world in creative play – over 46 countries are currently involved)!
I loved the imagination and creativity that the kids displayed – and their parents too! We had a rule of “no glue and no paint” so everything could be dismantled and disassembled at the end of the project and then reused or recycled. This meant more innovation and creativity was involved with the building and making! Instead of glue, our fixings included: masking tape, pegs, string, rubber-bands, twist-ties, paper-clips, bulldog-clips, pipe-cleaners, pins and staples.
Our main cubby house was built over the three days and included tunnels, towers, secret rooms, openable windows and doors, skylights, peepholes, curtains, flyscreens, wind turbines, solar panels, ceiling fan, roof garden, green wall (with flowers), letter box, chimney, welcome mat and more! Our main garden area included a large tree (complete with leaves, birds, insects, swing, lantern, nest and more), a sky (including sun, clouds, rainbow and plane), our rooftop garden (full of trees, plants, flowers, scarecrow, caterpillars, rabbits, pig, birds and butterflies), stepping-stones, a fish pond, and a patchwork shade sail!
The kids had free reign over what they wanted to contribute to the project. Some of their ideas were fabulous! Check out the welcome-sign for the door, the barbecue complete with kebabs(!), the upholstered armchair, the stick insect and spider, and the fish pond complete with water-feature! We had a radio, a tv, a clock, all made out of cardboard! There was also a garage – as we had some truly inventive tractors, trolleys, cars and trains… all run on fuel from renewable resources of course!
I think our favourite thing was seeing the joy on the kids’ faces as they explored and discovered the ins and outs of the cubby, and then felt some ownership as they contributed. It was so gorgeous to see! We had such lovely feedback from both the kids and adults – many visited more than once, or stayed for quite a long time, and many said it was their favourite thing at the show! We especially loved hearing that our zone was a calm haven amongst the crazy, busy, noisy, expensive and instant-gratification of the rides/carnival-games/junk- food/showbags outside our pavilion. We had repeat comments about the value of ‘quality family time’, free-family-friendly, space to recalibrate, calm haven for kids, creative craft time, easy to replicate at home, held their kids attention, learning more about sustainability and reduce/re-use/recycle… and the words “slow cubby movement” were heard a number of times….
I feel very fortunate to have been invited to be part of this fabulous community art engagement initiative!
A big thanks to the fabulous project co-ordinator, Pauline O’Shannessy-Dowling, (POD Design) who is a local Visual Artist, who creates intricate, whimsical drawings often with bright, bold colours. She regularly runs art-workshops with school children, encouraging creativity and artistic expression of imimaginative thinking. And a big thanks to the lovely Liz Cummins, Ballarat Landscape Architect of ‘Bricolage Design‘ who specialises in play spaces and children’s landscapes. Liz also has a background in early childhood education – how lucky were we to have her wisdom and experience! Liz also wrote a great wrap-up of the weekend here. And for those who don’t know me, I’m Talina Edwards, of Ballarat-based sustainable design studio ‘Talina Edwards Architecture: elemental design‘, and also a mum to two creative young lads. I think together we made a great team, and please stay tuned for further news about where our Creative Cubby Project might pop up next!
And as always, if I can assist in any way with your very own “eco – cubby”, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! ;o)
Do you value creativity in kids? What’s your creative outlet? What do you do to “slow” down? (Please reply in the comments box below).
I have a confession to make…
… I do rather like attending a home-show! Whether they’re industry-specific and more of a trade-show for construction-professionals, or a show aimed at DIYers and the average-joe, I’m all for it! There is always plenty to learn – not only from exhibits showcasing new products, but perhaps more so from the presentations by leaders in their fields. Earlier this year I wrote about my day at DesignBuild Expo, focusing on “Sustainability Day”.
Last week I attended Grand Designs Live in Melbourne. It was rather a last-minute decision, but I’m so glad I went. It is basically the Grand Designs Empire (both UK and Australian versions) branching out to include this event, with the big drawcard(s) being that Kevin McCloud and Peter Maddison present live. There were three stages with presenters on all day over the three days “Grand Theatre”, “Design Stage” and the “Sustainability Stage”. The exhibits were mainly grouped in four categories: ‘Kitchens and Bathrooms’, ‘Building’, ‘Outdoors’ and ‘Interiors’ which gave a great overview, and there was also “Ask An Expert” kiosks, an Interior Design Competition showcase of some emerging designers, and Book Signing too of course. Plenty to see and do!
I spent most of my time at the “Sustainability Stage”, naturally, as there were some great speakers and topics.
I was really keen on seeing Dick Clarke (Envirotecture and Alternative Technology Association) speak about the book he edited “How To Rethink Building Materials“. I’d recently purchased this book, and haven’t digested the whole lot yet, but was so excited (yes I’m a nerd!) when I heard of its release. It was the book I was waiting for – over 40 of Australia’s (and the world’s) experts with up to date knowledge about how we can make more sustainable choices when it comes to the materials we select. Dick Clarke is very passionate about what he does, and he gave a great overview of the book, and then showed a couple of examples of different houses he’d designed where the material choices were very different – dependent on the specific site location, owners and particular requirements.
Rethinking Building Materials
I also enjoyed the presentation by Chris Philpot (Planet Ark) & Sven Maxa (Maxa Design) about Building and Designing with Responsibly Sourced Wood. Planet Ark are currently running a “Make It Wood – Do Your World Some Good” campaign to promote awareness about consumers buying timber products ethically. Look out for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label as certification that the wood was responsibly sourced. Sven Maxa showed a house he’d designed where most of the timber sourced from the project was either recycled/reclaimed timber, or from plantation sources.
My other favourite presentation was Peter Maddison (Maddison Architects and Grand Designs Australia Host) who presented Sustainability: Case Studies and Principles. He showed us a number of interesting examples of homes from around Australia, which had all featured on Grand Designs Australia, each with their own sustainability agendas. I asked Peter if after four or five seasons of filming so many inspirational homes around Australia, if (as an Architect) he had learned anything that he wished he’s known before? He answered that he is always learning, that we are all always learning, and perhaps some of what he has seen has informed his own architectural practice (as it all becomes part of our subconscious). I realised I hadn’t yet seen any of the Australian series, so promptly headed off to the Merchandise stall to get myself a box-set of inspiration!
I hadn’t paid the big bucks to see Kevin on the big stage, but happened to catch part of his presentation from the back, along with a growing crowd of gawkers. I loved that he emphasised that “Grand” Designs are about grand ideas, not necessarily grand budgets, nor a grand scale. He showed one of his personal favourite “grand designs” which was a community housing project for single-mothers, that whilst not a grand architectural endeavour, over the years had done so much for the social-sustainability for improving the lives of these women and children that it had a special place in his heart…and that is one of the things that people love about Kevin.
So what else is it that we all love about Grand Designs? I recently asked on social media, and got some great responses – there is a lot of love for Kevin out there! It seems we like Kevin for telling it like it is, for engaging the viewer in the journey, and being able to change his opinion. He is obviously intelligent and passionate about telling these stores about people and their homes, and personally I love that he is an Architectural-ambassador of sorts…helping to promote the value of good design and smart decisions. He is also a Sustainability Ambassador – although he doesn’t like the word “sustainability” as it is over-used these days. But his gem of a book that I only recently discovered (and now highly recommend!) is “Kevin McCloud’s Principles of Home: Making a Place to Live” which is essentially a manifesto for a better (more sustainable) way to live; both inspiring and practical! If grand designs is your “architectural porn”, then this might just be your new ” architectural bible”!?!
Ultimately we all love the stories behind these grand designs – the before and after, the journey, the dream, the things that went wrong, the innovative ideas, the blown-out budgets and timeframes – but without the dramatics that tends to be compulsory on other “reality” shows. We love this, because architecture IS about people and how they live!
Thanks Kevin. (And Peter). Now I’m off to catch-up on a gazillion hours of old series…it is “research” of course :o)
And as always, if I can assist in any way with your very own “Grand Design”, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Are you a Grand Designs and Kevin McCloud fan too? Tell me, what is it that you LOVE the most about the show? (Please reply in the comments box below).
This post continues on our the theme of what a sustainable home is – and are they all the same? We’ll take a quick look at past, the present, and where we are (or should be!) headed in the future with regards to green buildings. Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, specialising in sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions about environmental design. We recently began a series of posts covering the WHY, WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and HOW of sustainable design.
I recently wrote about “What is a sustainable house?” which looked at a definition, and listed ten characteristics that I believe constitute a truly sustainable home. But today I want to address how I view that “environmentally friendly” homes have changed in recent times.
I grew up in the bushy Eltham-area (in the outer north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne), which at the time was well-known as an artistic community, who were environmentally conscious with many mud brick homes amongst the trees. Local legend Alistair Knox was a designer, environmentalist, builder, landscape-architect and the arguably the ‘father’ of the alternative natural building movement. From the 1950s to the 1980s, and he designed and built countless earth buildings – for a full list see here! So I was introduced to this “organic architecture” early on, to these homes made from natural materials of earth and timber, with large windows to connect to the native landscape, and a focus on a wood-fire hearth as the literal heart of the home.
So back then, then the emphasis was about what the house was made from. A focus on locally sourced, organic, natural materials (and living in a more connected way with the natural environment).
This low-tech approach was (and is) also seen in the owner-builder alternative housing movement, in permaculture, in earth-ships, and also many primitive and vernacular buildings from around the world.
Today, the focus is more about how the house performs. This is much more of a high-tech approach to the energy-efficiency of the building and its services.
There us so much talk about thermal dynamics and heating coefficients, or megajoules / kilowatt-hours / CO2 emissions and zero-carbon / R-values / ten-star rating / consumption per annum… numbers, statistics, technical jargon…
“Autonomous” homes (or those ‘off-the-grid’) of course need to understand all of this to meet their energy and water needs. These days though, many people seem to focus on these high-tech ‘add-ons’ to make their homes greener – instead of ensuring the building fabric is right first, or perhaps even looking more broadly at how sustainable their lifestyles are the choices they make.
To ensure a home “performs” well (which means that it is thermally comfortable with little need for additional mechanical heating/cooling) it is imperative that the building envelope is designed correctly. Today, sophisticated energy-rating software such as FirstRate (and international standards such as Passivhaus) focus heavily on science, statistics, and rigid criteria to get proven results for new buildings.
Unfortunately, at times the ’embodied’ energy used to make manufacture/process/transport some high-tech products/materials (e.g. metal or petroleum-derived plastic products or harmful chemical components/finishes) can outweigh the amount of energy that will actually be saved during the performance of the building…and can be toxic to our health, not to mention the earth. This can be a complicated mathematical equation to evaluate over the life of a building, with many factors and variables to be considered, so it can become even more confusing!
So the first approach is a bit too hippy, and the second too nerdy…can we do BOTH?
YES! Both approaches are crucial for our future buildings to be more sustainable. And encouragingly, this does seem to be happening…
On the one hand, our souls crave the connection to nature, but we should also embrace new technologies which are making innovative breakthroughs all the time, which can improve our buildings and our lives.
On the other, if we continue our over-consumption and greedy ways, and think technology will save us, we are mistaken. It is only when we start thinking of the life-cycle of our built environment in the same ways as the natural environment that we will start to have truly sustainable buildings.
As always, it is important to remember that sustainable design is NOT an aesthetic or a style, but a philosophical and theoretical approach to how the building is composed. Please stay tuned to read more about the who, what, when, where, why, and of course we’ll get to the how of sustainable design.
Are all sustainable houses the same? What do you think? What sort of sustainable home do you dream about living in? Does your heart lean more toward the warmth of timber and the texture of stone…or does your head get excited by the latest specs of photovoltaic panels? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!)
Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter (or over there on the top right-hand side of this webpage) so you won’t miss out on our posts!