What Is Sustainable Design? A Look at How Australian Architect Andrew Maynard Does It

Street scene showing people sitting in the shade

Andrew Maynard Architects in ArchDaily

This is a series where I take my lectures presented as adjunct professor teaching sustainable design at Ryerson University School of Interior Design in Toronto, and distill them down to a sort of Pecha Kucha slide show of 20 slides that take about 20 seconds each to read.

There really isn't a good definition of sustainable design, which is a problem for me when I am supposed to be teaching it. So I try and learn from the architects who are trying to figure it out. One who I really admire is Andrew Maynard, a young Australian architect who I have been following on TreeHugger for years. He hasn't produced a huge body of work, mostly renovations and additions, and has an unusual (for an architect anyway) approach to work/life balance, writing in ArchDaily:

Through planning, management and the ability to turn away bad projects, I never allow myself to be in a position where I need to work after hours. I have manufactured this situation with great difficulty over the years and outside of the norms of architectural practice. To generate this work/life balance I have opted out of the overly competitive and patriarchal environment that contemporary architectural working culture demands. My practice fills a tiny niche and I recognize that it is not financially viable for the profession as a whole to do as I do.

VicUrban prefabs on a truck

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

Andrew Maynard first appeared in TreeHugger in 2005 with his entry in an affordable housing competition, a prefab scheme for Victoria, Australia that had this eye-catching image of boxes stuck on an Lustron delivery truck. Maynard wrote about the promise of prefab:

For housing to be affordable now and in the future there is a dire need for the building industry to catch up with the processes used in the production of electrical goods and cars. If the car industry functioned as the building industry does we would have roads full of very different vehicles. All cars would be built simplistically and crudely at a very high price and would be affordable to few. The VicUrban house design is a cheap production line, prefabrication system for affordable housing for all.

The suburb-eating robot

credit: Andrew Maynard

For a few years, all we got to see was his conceptual work, like this 2008 suburb-eating robot that would deal with a post-peak oil era where the suburbs were abandoned. His answer to the problem: the suburb-eating robot.

CV08 is a robot that consumes the abandoned suburbs through its front 2 legs. It processes the materials and fires off compacted recycling missiles to awaiting recycling plants. CV08’s middle legs and one rear leg follow the front legs to terra-form the newly revealed earth with native Flora and Fauna. Vast stocks of the Flora and Fauna are stored within CV08 in carbonite sleep until they are required to colonise what was previously suburban wasteland.

Corb V 2.0

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

My favorite of his conceptual schemes was his 2007 Corb V2.0, where he nailed the problems and possibilities of shipping container housing, asking:

Why do architects keep trying to squash houses into containers? Container dimensions are terrible. Why not design a kickass apartment and use all of the other fun toys that we find on docks to help deal with the many troubling issues that the modern visions of dense housing have difficulty addressing?

So he designs a really nice unit, wider than a container, and uses all of the systems that handle and move containers to build a reconfigurable building. I called it "beyond brilliant, the best idea of the year."

Essex Street House

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

By 2010 Maynard and his partner Mark Austin were producing real work, and when TreeHugger started its Best of Green series, he was chosen as our Best Young Architect, definitely one to watch. Wallpaper wrote of the Essex house renovation and addition:

Briefed with extending and enhancing a typical suburban Melbourne home, Maynard has used simple, pragmatic means to improve the house's performance. The most notable feature are the sun screens, a bold feature constructed of recycled wood. This is combined with lots of insulation - 'An efficient home without the use of elaborate tactics or expensive equipment,' according to the architects.

Moor House Conceptual

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

I think that the house that I like the best, and that best demonstrates what I admire so much about Andrew Maynard's work is the Moor House, in Fitzroy, VIC. First of all, there is his documentation; most architects might give the visitor to a website a few carefully selected photos, and if you are lucky you might get a plan. With Andrew Maynard, it is an information dump, dozens of photos and sketches and concept drawings, so that you really get to understand what is going on and why. Of course, this warms a blogger's heart.

Moor House Massing

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

Even the massing is explained, how the house is broken up into smaller boxes and the slot for an existing tree is preserved. It's not a huge addition, although it feels much bigger than it is. Andrew told Sanctuary Magazine:

I don't subscribe to the idea that you can demolish a perfectly good house to put up a four- bedroom six-star house, add a solar array and a few other 'green gadgets' and call it sustainable. Or that you can add a 'green' extension to an existing dwelling that is perfectly big enough, and call it sustainable.

Moor House rear

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

In all of Maynard's work it is almost impossible to figure out where the inside ends and the outside starts. The kitchen counter in the Moor House runs forever, with its own little door to close it in when necessary.

Moor House Interior

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

One rarely sees a drywall interior; Maynard fills it with warm finishes. He doesn't skimp on their quality, either.

If a renovation, extension or new build is necessary, then think small and think strategic. Never confuse small with cheap. It's better to get a budget and spend it on something small that is designed extremely well than use the same budget spread thinly over a large area that performs badly.

More in TreeHugger: Andrew Maynard builds a pile of boxes at the Moor House

Tattoo House

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

Sometimes I have a bit of trouble taking what he writes seriously, such as in the budget-minded Tattoo house.

Many of the design decisions were generated by the tight budget. The form is a simple box- the strongest form an architect can achieve at a bargain basement price.

Now it is a bit subversive, Maynard knows how to drive a truck through a zoning bylaw or building code when he needs to. For instance in the Tattoo house, there is a zoning bylaw that requires that 75% of a second storey be opaque to minimize overlook into the neighbours' yards. So he just covered the windows with stickers.Tattoo House stair

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

Take this stair as an example. It is a lovely folded steel stair supported by rods, but that can be expensive. Fortunately, through good planning and design, Maynard manages to save a riser.

Every element needed to perform multiple functions for maximum return- hence the kitchen bench becomes part of the stair, and the screening required by council reflects heat and glare away from the expansive windows, neatly eliminating the need for curtains.

Hill House

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

The house I like the least of all Andrew Maynard's houses is still instructive, mainly because of its subversiveness. The original house on the street is now turned into bedrooms for the kids, while a new living area and master bedroom are built at the rear of the lot. This makes sense in terms of maximizing natural light. It is connected to the main house by a sort of sunken tunnel that is built into the fence along the property line; I suspect that this is to comply with a fence height limit of 2 meters. That's clever. However when discussing sustainability I find the artificial turf covering the house and yard a bit hard to swallow.

The new structure faces the original house. The backyard is now the centre of the house activated by the built form around it. Beyond solar gain, the benefit of the new structure being in the backyard is that it borrows landscaping from its neighbours’ gardens. The high windows about the entertainment cabinetry and the dining area are enveloped in trees. Internally one gets the sense that Hill House is enveloped by bush rather than part of the suburban mix.

Hill House Plan

credit: Andrew Maynard Architects

Then there is the moving of the entrance.

Front Street no longer provides the main entry to the home. Family now enters via the side lane. The original house, now private dormitory spaces, no longer has a typical relationship to the street’s “front” door. The original house, as with most narrow blocks throughout Melbourne, demanded that visitors walked a long corridor past bedrooms to the living area.

So now, family and visitors enter through the narrow lane to another street. I wonder what the delivery people do. It is very clever, but is it good urban etiquette? I am not so sure. But that is as negative as I get about any of Andrew Maynard's work. More in TreeHugger: Architect Andrew Maynard Builds a Hill. And a House.

Black House Stair

credit: Fraser Marsden

The Black House is of course neither black nor a house, and it definitely has the stair of the week, beautifully fabricated out of perforated metal. I just hope nobody drops a drink or anything when walking over dad's desk below.

Black House Floor

credit: Fraser Marsden

This house is also known as " toy management house prototype one" because of its storage system in the floor. In fact the whole renovation is a monument to clever storage. It was needed:

...apartments like this are often abandoned if kids come into our lives. Increased space, an extra bathroom and a backyard are factors that often dictate a move to the suburbs.
Instead, every inch is used, and the floor becomes part of what they call an elaborate toy management system.
Gravity is colluding with your child. Gravity conspires in your child's favour. Their target is your sanity. Parents constantly pick things up, while kid throws them down. Children love dropping things on the ground. We have all seen the torturous game of a baby sitting in a high chair throwing a toy to the ground the moment it is placed on their table. It’s cute the first three times. It’s a nightmare the next 200 times. While gravity amuses the child, it punishes the parent. At Black house we have made gravity the parents’ ally rather than the child’s. What if the floor could eat all the mess up?

More at Andrew Maynard Architect and on TreeHugger: Stair of the Week: Andrew Maynard's Black House

House House

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

As I am involved in the architectural preservation movement, I have always admired how Andrew rarely touches the front of the houses he works on. On this pair of houses in Melbourne, Maynard retains the original character of the existing houses, and then builds a tower behind, separated by a glass slot. He notes that Melbourne is flat and people spread out, but that it doesn't necessarily make sense.

What if we build a tall thin structure that maximizes the small back yard. We produce spaces that, though familiar in many parts of the world, are unfamiliar in Australia: tall tight cavernous spaces filled with cascading light from above.

House House rear

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

This is a very urban house, with its black paint on the side to resist tagging and its high fences for privacy. But it still totally opens up to the outdoors, with the kitchen running out into the garden and the same door detail as the Moor House on the counter. Note how the hard surface breaks down and turns into lawn. More at Andrew Maynard Architects and on TreeHugger: Andrew Maynard's HOUSE House wins renovation award

Cut Paw Paw House

credit: Peter Bennetts

We end with a look at the Cut Paw Paw House, which not only blurs the line between outside and inside, but tries to obliterate it. Australia gets hot and sunny, so shading becomes important. So a structure has been built between the house and the studio at the rear that connects and shades. It is sort of half-built, (one commenter on TreeHugger noted that "It'll be nice when it's finished..") but does the job.

Like all of our building, sustainability is at the core of Cut Paw Paw. Rather than simply extruding the existing structure we have run the new form along the southern boundary so that it is soaked with sunlight. The openings and windows have been designed to optimise passive solar gain, thereby drastically reducing demands on mechanical heating and cooling.

Cut Paw Paw house side

credit: Peter Bennetts

This is my favorite photo. Note how there is no post at the corner of the house, no way to really see where it ends. Close the doors and the cat loses its tail. There is also a planter inside the house to further confuse.

Cut Paw Paw is a structure that is deliberately incomplete. Derek and Michelle, the owners, asked that the house be “ridiculously inside-out”. To accomplish this we not only employed tested and successful ideas such as sliding walls, bifold doors and decks, we also left the building incomplete. The central space, between the dining area and the studio, is an unclad frame within and surrounded by garden. It is both inside and outside. It is both a new building and an old ruin. It is both garden and home.

More at Andrew Maynard Architects.

credit: Peter Bennetts via Andrew Maynard

As Andrew Maynard Architects have become more successful their projects have become bigger; witness the Tower House here, it's almost a village. But I still hold him up to my students as a role model of a sustainable designer. A few years ago he wrote:

The ethical and sustainable thing to do is to have high per square metre rates, local materials, more efficient material and structure, high performance insulation, high performance glazing, designing towards the sun. Big houses dislocate our living spaces. Big spaces separate us. Big spaces waste resources and cause us to disproportionately increase our consumption of electricity, water, toilets, TV's, bathrooms & furniture.

But even as the spaces he designs get bigger, they retain the ideas about making the best use of the outdoor environment, the most efficient use of space, preservation of the existing while making the new open and flexible. He retains his sense of humor and that subversive suburb-eating robot still lurks in every corner and in every detail. Here are some other projects that didn't make it into the slideshow as I hit my limit of 20: Vader House by Andrew Maynard- A Hidden Gem Andrew Maynard Busts Through The Roof With Butler House Andrew Maynard's Mash House Lands In Backyard Poop House by Andrew Maynard Andrew Maynard on Sustainable Design and Teen Sex