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Cafe musings - Staying warm

I don't know about you but I have never been a huge fan of Winter. I have grown to love the change of seasons over time, the soups, the slow cooked meals, the crisp clear mornings and of course the snow. However, I have never lived in a warm home and that impacts on my enjoyment of the cooler seasons.

Ironically, although probably typical to the profession, I don't own my own home. As my kids are now at an age that they understand what I do, I am constantly being asked if we can build our own home. One day my darlings, one day. I love our rented apartment, we have lived there for seven years and it feels very much like home. It has a beautiful garden and terrace for outdoor living but it suffers the fate of many homes built at the turn of the century - It is cold. Freezing in fact. In Summer it is wonderfully cool, which I am eternally grateful but at the moment even with several layers of warm clothes and heaters, it is cold.

I recently submitted our Aperture House(s) project for the Sustainability awards and I asked my clients how the house was performing :

" We are warm and the house is light and bright. We enjoy looking at the clouds and moon through the skylight in the living room. Once warn, the house maintains heat in most living rooms, the extra sliding door at the edge of the kitchen helps keep the warmth in the living room too. "

I was so happy with this response as it validated the thought and consideration given to the design when the brief specifically asked for the homes to be sustainable. While I do not market my business as a 'Sustainable Architect' , the ideas behind Passive Thermal Comfort drives alot of our designs. I believe that Architecture should be sustainable and that it should not be a separate field of expertise. While the Construction industry contributes a considerable amount to CO2 emissions, in my opinion every small attempt to reduce this, as well as reducing the cost of running a home and improving the comfort levels, is of primary importance.

The Aperture House(s) were only the second project we have designed that involved building a new home. Two identical, mirrored images of each other we were able to achieve fabulous northern daylight access for one living room but not the other . All of our other projects have been alterations and additions. Having carte blanche with a new home enables more control to achieve passive design, however with this project there were significant limitations with the site, given that one house would achieve more northern light than the other. Skylights and voids helped to bring needed sunlight into the homes.

On suburban blocks achieving orientation is always difficult. Some Architects believe Northern sun is God, others do not. I probably sit in the former category. If you can face the living rooms to the north you are guaranteed that Northern Sun infiltrating the room and lighting and heating it passively. Even better if it can warm a concrete floor or wall that retains the heat through it's thermal mass and releases it slowly over time.

I love courtyard layouts for this very reason. The insertion of an open space into the middle of the house enables northern light to penetrate any orientation and creates a serene private outdoor space. The research I undertook in Vietnam, after being awarded a Byera Hadley Travel Scholarship by the Board of Architects Supermodel Housing: Long, Thin and Dense , looks at several exemplar contemporary housing projects and examines the plans of these houses, adaptations from Southern Chinese courtyard homes.

Our Courtyard House Project came to us via Cameron Rosen, a Project Manager and Builder I had met whose own home had been designed by renowned sustainable architect Caroline Pidcock, and built to a high level of Sustainability as required by Cameron and his wife Daphne. Working closely with their company Australian Living and my clients to achieve an 8-star rated house enabled us to explore together the best way to achieve this, on a very tight budget.

As the owners of the Aperture House(s) reported that their home was warm in winter, my client for the Courtyard House was so delighted that her home needed hardly any active heating in Winter. This feedback is why I love being an Architect. Both homes use PV Cells to reduce their energy costs too, adding yet another level of sustainability and care to their projects.

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