Recycled houses

by ANNIE GOTTERSON on Aug 2, 2010 in Architecture , Interiors
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Sometimes a house is beyond restoration and simply must be demolished – but that doesn’t mean the materials it’s made from can’t be used again

With a great deal of care and thought, architects David Gole, Emma Scragg and Simon Boundy from Riddel Architecture created Hill End Eco House – a residence in Brisbane made almost entirely from recycled materials. In fact, the majority of building materials used in construction were salvaged from the demolished house that previously inhabited the site. This means 70-year-old hardwood, along with 95 per cent of the old house, was reinstated in a chic, modern dwelling.

Setting a strong environmental mandate, the clients wanted to build a speculative house as an investment, but one that was sustainable in every sense. For the architects, this meant designing a residence with lasting and universal aesthetic appeal, as well as high consideration for the environment.

Describing it as ‘totally sustainable’, Scragg says the team wanted it to appeal to as many people as possible. ‘We don’t want the next owner to come in and rip everything up because it looks too recycled; that would destroy our intent. We had to find the right balance between earthy – recycled and sophistication with clean lines.’

Easily achieving this, the house is both environmentally and design-conscious. The design concept sought to create a sense of openness and space, while also providing areas with varying levels of privacy and encouraging interaction with the outside. To this end, high-level windows, generous openings and light-reflecting surfaces were used in tandem with light-coloured concrete floors and timber, all drastically reducing reliance on artificial lighting, while enhancing the flow between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Matching neutral tones with occasional bright colours, the house is aesthetically pleasing on several fronts and, even more impressively, no sacrifices to its level of sustainability were necessary.

In practice, this equated to ‘looking at the house from a ‘cradle to grave’ perspective and thinking about every single element of the building: where materials came from, how they’ll be looked after and maintained in their lifetime, and what will happen to them at the end of their life,’ says Scragg.

‘It also meant looking at energy-efficient design, having a layout that captures breezes and brings in winter sun but blocks out summer sun. And it also involved looking at financial sustainability and protecting the house against price rises on water or electricity.’

Another element of the house central to the design concept and brief is the inclusion of various green pockets or gardens around the house. Strategically placed, the vegetation encourages water to seep into natural water tables, while also cooling the residence in summer and keeping it warm in winter. Mostly native plants like banana trees, lemon tea trees, strawberries, mint, lemongrass, citrus trees and rosella bushes were used in the gardens, which provide ‘bush tucker’ for residents and native wildlife alike.

Looking ahead, there were also several provisions made for future users, which the architects hope will expand the life-span of the house – an important aspect of sustainable architecture. Thus, they designed the house so that it can be divided into three distinct areas, allowing the structure to be used for a range of purposes. It could accommodate a family and a business, it could be used as three separate dwellings or as a single house or group of semi households.

The point is that without knowing how future generations will want to live, creating a versatile residence will greatly reduce the chances of the house being demolished in the next 20 to 30 years.

In contrast, the water and power systems employed in the house will have an immediate effect on its sustainability, particularly in southeast Queensland, where severe drought has meant strict water restrictions have been in place for several years. Now, with three separate water lines, the effect such external conditions have on the house are minimised.

One line is for town water (which the architects think won’t ever be needed); another for treated grey water; and the main water supply line.

feeds the house with natural rainwater collected and stored on-site.

As for electricity, the house is virtually self-reliant, with 100 per cent of power supplied by solar panels on the roof, which collect power and then feed it back to the main power grid for the entire area. In accordance with current Australian regulations and incentives created to encourage people to use solar panels, the house basically sells power to the government and then buys it back at a discounted rate as needed. As the panels will generate much more power than is needed to run one house, the money residents earn from solar panels will help cover their initial outlay.

While Scragg has been persuading clients to ‘go green’ for years, this is her first truly sustainable house and one that she says sets a great example. While the team has learned from this project and developed quite a detailed specification which can be used on future projects, she notes that it was only possible because of the mind-set of her clients. ‘They wouldn’t comprise on any sustainable issues – they could have had fewer solar panels, or not reused grey water, but they went for cheaper door handles instead. It was very admirable,’ she says.