Tell us about the home you built for your family

It started in 2000 when I did a course on Sustainable Building Design.

I was a Structural/Civil Engineer at the time but wanted to shift away from that and knew quite a bit about ESD. I did this course where the final assignment was to design your sustainable dream home, which I did. I spent a lot of time on it because it wasn’t just an assignment for me, it was a real dream.

Although I got an A on that assignment, the lecturer identified two (apparent) errors. One was that there was no window in the guest toilet (I believe the energy used for lights and fan is lower than heat losses through a window) and the other one was that it had curved walls which he considered too hard to build. I thought, nah, bullshit, and I set out to prove him wrong.

We wanted to build a house anyway and I had it in my mind that I wanted to build something like this. I did build it exactly as I drew it, curved walls and all, and proved that lecturer wrong. I took two years off and built everything myself without any experience in hands-on construction. I had a few tradies helping me out, but everything from the walls and the plumbing and the wiring – I did it all myself including a post-tension suspended concrete slab.

I included passive solar design, ultra-low energy use and loads of recycled materials. The structural framework for example was an old factory building I bought and disassembled and re-used for the house. We also included a lot of recycled timber and the external walls are straw bale. The house is on a beautiful 55 acre bush block in Cockatoo in the Dandenong Ranges.

 

What does environmentally sustainable design mean to you?

Survival of our species! Everyone talks about the demise of our environment but, make no mistake, our environment will survive. There’s no doubt about that.

The earth is about 4.5 billion years old, humanity only 200,000 years old. Humanity is almost like a disease on the face of the earth, and as we evolve we’re getting worse and worse and eventually the earth will shake us off. So my job is to make the disease more compatible to the earth; basically to survive longer.

 

What’s been the biggest change in ESD since you started out?

When I started out in 2001, there was very strong focus on energy and water because we were in a drought here in Melbourne and the Kyoto Protocol was still fresh in our minds. Most of our Engineers now have a good grasp on how to design for that so I don’t need to worry about it so much.

It is the indoor environment quality that’s really the focus – the interaction between humans and buildings that’s the biggest shift.

 

We’re hearing more about ‘Passivhaus’. What does this mean in an Australian context?

Passivhaus is a voluntary building standard that has been developed in Germany for residential housing. It’s a standard that focuses on energy efficiency and a high level of indoor environment quality. It’s been designed to find a very good balance between build cost and energy savings once in operation.

In the Australian context, this has to be translated, so I don’t think that Passivhaus really fully applies in Australia. I’m not convinced yet that we really need to go down the path to full certification, because we might spend too much money in construction and not get the energy savings for a reasonable return on investment. So the original intent of finding that really good balance between building cost and operational costs is not necessarily translated to Australia, especially our climate here in Melbourne.

We can probably design something similar; not as stringent and still have a very good balance.

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on two aquatic centres, Parliament House Office Accommodation, Alexander Theatre, a number of schools, and university buildings.

The aquatic centres I find really interesting because the amount of energy and water required to run them is huge, and there is massive scope to make savings in both.

There is especially one project I’m working on that’s run by the owners. They’re very interested in sustainability and engaged with making a difference. The owners are actually members of a family with a very sustainable, green heart. They show a great interest in long-term sustainability and it looks like most of our proposed initiatives will be implemented.

 

What’s the best part of your job?

Legacy. It’s the one of the reasons I do this job. I want to leave the world a little bit better for my kids, my family,  and roughly 7.5 billion neighbours.

I am just trying to do something that makes a bit more sense.