photos by Brett Boardman from website of Farnan Findlay
The March issue of Dwell includes this off-grid house north of Sydney, Australia, designed by Farnan Findlay Architects for mechanical engineer Chris Medland, and the mechanics are certainly impressive. Four 6,000 gallon tanks hold water gathered from the roof; a wind turbine and photovoltaics generate electricity for 14 batteries that hold a week's worth of electricity (do they have longer nights in Australia?) LED lighting, passive solar design, in an elegant modern envelope. As Dwell says, none of the "down-on-the-alfalfa-farm nuts and berries aesthetic associated with sustainable architecture."
From the Farnan Findlay Architects website:
Set in an ideal site in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, this bush retreat is self sufficient, being equipped with solar panels and wind generation. The project has virtually become a laboratory of ideas, from the wind generator to the LED lighting inside the house.
The client demanded that the approach not be an exercise in reductionism. There is a dishwasher, pool and proper flushing toilets yet the house is comfortable all year without air conditioning.
The term environmentally sustainable design (ESD), Farnan says, is often bandied about. "You just need to get the basic building right before you bolt the technology on. If you don't, you'll be placing much higher demands on it," he says.
The architect has a checks-and-balances approach to sustainability. He considers the influence of "embodied energy" - or the hidden environmental toll of factors such as transport costs and upkeep. So there are no ceiling lights, just lamps and strategically placed, low-wattage LED spotlights, which are horribly expensive - $80 each - although Farnan says they last 50,000 hours.
The bathroom floors are resilient, coloured epoxy resin, "like they use in pubs". A slab of ironbark, recovered from a closed mill, has been turned into the kitchen bench. The trunks of saplings cleared for the home's construction are installed as supports for bunk beds and tables.
Elsewhere, materials are raw and therefore durable - galvanised steel, concrete, recycled hardwood. "There are not a lot of finishes," Farnan says. "Things are expressed very basically, honestly, not with a lot of layers."