Why Are Australian and New Zealand Houses So Cool?

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It is a question I have pondered since I first saw Andre Hodgskin's Bachkit way back at the turn of the century. Coming from another big country with a small population, I wondered why their stuff was so cool, and why ours was generally so banal. Dwell Magazine looks at the issue this month, and asked Michael Sylvester to explain. We look at some of Michael's responses, and do our own roundup of Treehugger coverage of interesting Australian and New Zealand projects.

casey brown permanent camping photo

A ten-foot square by 20 foot high getaway with corrugated copper siding, three panels that fold down for security and up for shade, and a big rainwater collection tank behind.
Permanent Camping by Casey Brown

Mythic Isolation: Michael suggests that "being removed from the rest of the world geographically, some Australians....cultivated a proud passion for building a unique identity....Out in the "bush", pioneers worked hard in isolation to make a future with meagre resources."

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"Within the living room the ceiling wraps down to an internal water tank. The tank cools the ambient air temperature of the living room during summer, supplies rain water, and structurally carries the roof load. Excess water drains to an external tank, and is used for flushing toilets, irrigating the garden, washing wetsuits [it's near the coast in Victoria, Australia] and occasionally for drinking." Cape Shank House by Paul Morgan Architects

A Demanding Ecology:
Michael writes that "Australia is a very arid country....the mainstream discussion of the practical impacts of resource management feeds into broad awareness of issues of sustainability."

Whereas those of us living in more temperate northern climes took water for granted. And it gets cold up here, so designers are limited by the requirements for insulation.


With rammed earth walls, wind turbines, solar hot water, rain water collection, everything it needs to be "a demonstration project to show how alternative energy and passive systems could be integrated to create a self sufficient home." and which I mistakenly called a monster house in the country- it only looks big. Monier House by Ackert Architecture,

Pronounced Egalitarianism:
Michael says "Entitled elites or the pompous have little truck....it also caps ostentation in the design. Luxury takes on humbler forms through craftsmanship rather than veneer."

Quality over quantity- what a lovely idea.

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Aussie architect Sean Godsell's small masterpiece is made from a ready-made, re-used shipping container. Super-efficient and simple, but made to last and protect, the unit uses a bare minimum of industry materials. FutureShack by Sean Godsell
Outdoor Lifestyle: ....most people live in temperate zones that allow for year-round outdoor activity. When your average person respects and enjoys the environment, that respect is necessarily carried over into how one designs and treats the earth.

Lots more worth reading in in Dwell. More Australian and New Zealand projects in TreeHugger:

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Stuart Tanner Architects say that "The sustainable capability of our architecture is an integral component of any design that we undertake and the impact of a particular project is considered as a combination of factors, such as scale, influence over its site and greater context, in additon to its passive heating and cooling ability." Stuart Tanner Architects: Tasmanian Sustainable Design

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This off-grid house north of Sydney, Australia is 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." Bush Retreat by Farnan Findlay Architects
Next: Australian and New Zealand Container and prefab Designs

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