Size/ The Bigger Picture
Australia has one of the largest home sizes in the world: at an average of 231 square meters, (compared to the UK at 76 square meters) despite the number of inhabitants virtually halving over the last hundred years - down to 2.4 per household.
Rethinking size has many profound benefits for both us and our planet. Small spaces can connect and nurture, and when designed with some strategic concepts can still be made to ‘feel big’. Bigger homes need more materials to build and furnish, and more energy to power, all increasing the load on the environment.
There is a balance that works well - not so big that the home becomes cold and soulless, but big enough to have a sense of spaciousness so that it breathes well and is not claustrophobic.
Size is also relative. It has a different threshold for different people and families, however everyone can reduce some areas during the design phase by questioning: "What is really necessary and what is surplus?"
In summary a better product is generally achieved by focusing more so on quality rather than quantity.
HANDMADE/ STICK BY STICK
Our homes are becoming more and more factory processed. Some see this as progress with possible cost saving benefits, particularly in the more extreme case of prefab home building which is becoming increasingly popular. We are not so sure about this direction, and in fact we see the benefits to going back to a more hand built, stick by stick or brick by brick process. The main advantage of this is the ability to more easily work in with the nuances of each unique site; to shape and orient the building accordingly.
In addition, a connection between the home owner and the building process is created this way, rather than the disassociated factory building method.
In fact, we think that it is a healthy and rewarding experience to go one step further and for each homeowner to commit as much time as possible to the construction phase of their own home.
Where a homeowner would like to self-build or self-manage the construction process, we can assist with some useful tips as well as ensuring that we document the design of the home in a way that is clear to understand.
The New Plan
There exists an infinite number of layouts and room functions that are possible in the design process of a home. We are being increasingly convinced of the 'right' size and shape of a standard house, however designing a home is more of a creative process that considers the personalities of the owners and the characteristics of each site. A more appropriate solution is generally achieved when there is an openness to explore new solutions rather than adopting rigid preconceived rules.
Times are rapidly changing in the world of technology, meaning that the way we live in our homes is constantly being updated. There desperately needs to be a healthy, philosophical discussion about the direction in which we are heading, and whether it all serves our best interests.
There is already an average of seven screens per household in Australia, and this number will more than likely rise; with new technology making it possible to mount a screen onto windows, walls, and any other household surface.
The upside is that we may soon have access to a flexible home/work area as the need to go to an office diminishes. The downside however is that there will be no escape, no break from the constant bombardment of information.
We run the risk of losing control of our mindspace, and handing over to the plethora of special interest groups who are keen to take up tenancy in there!
A home was once a sanctuary from the outside world, a place we could retreat to process the day and imagine tomorrow. A balance between external connection and internal contemplation will mean something different to each person. An ideal plan is one that honours the need for privacy, and one that also encourages deep and happy connections between all inhabitants.
The most successful programming of a homes functions are the ones that get to the point more simply and clearly. Simple is timeless.... and as Leonardo Da Vinci noted … ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
What IT’s MADE FROM
‘Progress’ needs to always be questioned, or we may head somewhere that sucks out our humanity, and this definitely applies to the materials we use to build our homes.
‘Progress’ is giving us a highly manufactured, sterile and very processed selection of building materials; sometimes producing houses without a pulse.
Humans are generally happiest when we stay as close to nature as possible. The raw/authentic selection of building materials such as timber, stone, hemp, rammed earth, clay bricks and second hand materials are comforting and reassuring. The real joy comes in allowing them to stay in their natural patina which seems to speak directly to a part deep inside us. It’s as if we are subconsciously aware of our own ageing and can feel connected to materials which too can age gracefully and in doing so reflect such intense beauty.
Not all processed materials need be discarded. For example, concrete & metal can still weather naturally, and their robustness ensures they survive the ageing process well.
There is scope also to continually improve these materials so that their embodied energy during construction may be reduced significantly.
Materials with longer life spans which require less maintenance, reduce the load on the planet and give us more free time.
Material selection is also about choosing ethically, sustainably and appropriately for the site, climate and budget. There are also many benefits in keeping the selection of the materials as local as possible; not only does this reduce shipping miles, it also helps to foster a rich local vernacular.
COSTS/ HOW MUCH TO SPEND
Housing prices, including construction have increased at a rate greater than the average income, so some clear understanding of costs and budget are imperative at the very beginning of each project.
The main things that affect home costs are size, complexity of design, site conditions, level of finishes, and construction technique.
There has been a trend for some time now, to over-design and to make the simple complicated, which can result in a lot of wastage. Almost 30% of all cost overruns in Australia are due to material wastage, while 42% of Australia's total material waste comes from the construction industry.
Another tip is to not spend so much that you become a slave to the system; to work long hours to pay a big mortgage, and to never get to enjoy your home. You do not want to build a home that you resent and worry about maintaining because you have invested more than you are comfortable with.
A home should give us joy each time we enter and should be a reminder of our creative manifesting power to inspire all our other dreams. This focus to design within your affordability level is a very important step in the process, and one that ensures personal freedom.
BEAUTY/ ON THE INSIDE + THE OUTSIDE
There is often a misconception that the more 'clever bits' a building has attached to it, the better it will look. This is not always the case – real beauty is often found when focusing on the simplest solution that is liveable and sustainable. This is always the most authentic path, and authenticity generally reflects beauty.
Working and reworking balance, harmony scale and proportion is also very important. Mix this with creative, innovative solutions that add character, and a home will be born that will make people smile as well as stand the test of time.
Along every path of the new home process from sketch design to moving in - a heartfelt intention should be set and infused into it. This will inspire a beautiful energy which radiates into each space.
A home needs to be thought of as a living entity and care, love, pride and gratitude are great ways to magnify its energy and healing potential.
PLANTING/ IN + OUT
Blending nature from out to in, creates spaces that allow you to breathe in cleaner air.
For most people, the largest proportion of our lives are spent indoors despite the outdoors often being a healthier environment. It makes sense to bring some of the garden inside: plants reduce VOC’s, and allow us to breathe in fuller and take in fresh oxygen.
By reducing the size/number of rooms it allows us to pull the home apart over a site and insert green passages to connect the various spaces.
The benefits of more natural light, more oxygen, and more visual joy keep us energised and inspired for longer.
Another useful strategy is to plant gardens with a high ratio of edibles. Herbs can be grown close to the kitchen for easy access while vegetable and fruit trees also provide a satisfying sense of self sufficiency. Once these plants thrive so do the inhabitants; as well as gaining a degree of freedom from supermarkets, sharing the abundance with neighbours, friends & family also creates a movement towards a healthier community direction.
POWER TO YOU
According to Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA), the good news is that demand for electricity in Australia, and CO2 emission intensity are falling fast. This is particularly timely, given that Australia has the highest emission intensity and therefore greatest carbon exposure than any developed economy. Some of the goals of ZCA are to halve residential energy, encourage solar panels on roofs so that homes become renewable energy power stations, eliminate gas, and ultimately achieve energy freedom. The way it recommends to do this is by better insulation, draft proofing, efficient window glazing, better shading, cool roof colour, chilled water cooling systems, using heat pumps instead of gas for air conditioners and water, induction cooktop, LED lighting, efficient appliances and energy monitoring.
Current energy alternatives is an area which is evolving and changing rapidly. It seems that everyday something new either hits the markets or is just around the corner. For example, the solar market has seen so many changes in the last six months that it is important to spend some time researching thoroughly. The desire to get off the grid is in part more motivated by a desire to have freedom from energy companies. While this is fully understandable, we need to be careful that we don’t jump off one ‘clunky’ system and into another.
We are generally all aware of the problems within a system of digging up and burning non renewable materials, however the current battery storage system options are still not perfect.
While using batteries to store solar energy is a far better solution than fossil fuels, there are still issues that need to be considered. For example, the original lead acid options and the lithium ion option both have issues with toxicity, lifespan, re-use and disposability. The new options including flow and salt water battery storage seem better, however I think we can and will do much better very soon. Even the current photovoltaic cells may be a product that will soon feel dated.
It is worth noting that most new initiatives and products that hit the market are usually required to prove that it is not only economically viable, but also has the potential for great profits. This is the flaw in the plan. It is time to think beyond the dollars to develop a truly great solution for everyone and our planet.
Mini grids on new estates and larger community grids storing renewable energy are still the best way to share power to cover for high use days or low sun periods, and so it seems certain that some more innovative solutions are just around the corner.
Community grids incidentally are already gaining momentum across the country. Innovations such as wind power and geothermal are other options also worth consideration.
Each site and owner’s requirements will call for a specific solution.
Some will be keen to get off the grid as soon as possible, for personal or environmental benefits and some may just wait a couple of extra months or years and get a better solution for the long term. Either way, we know as a collective race that our means of generating power must quickly be transitioned to cleaner sources.
With the objective of reducing our load on the planet and saving power comes a number of useful considerations...... bigger homes need more power, more socially designed spaces reduce the need to access technology to interact, natural daylight with windows and skylights reduce the need for artificial lights during the day.
Passive design principals specific to each climate zone will also help reduce the amount of power needed to heat/cool the inside of the house.
Then there are the more unorthodox approaches, such as training ourselves to adjust to temperature changes. Humans have lived on this planet for a very long time; it's curious that we haven’t seemed to acclimatise as well as other species. I think we have the inner power to do so – we just need to focus a bit more: for example, walk or run up and down steps first thing on a crisp morning to warm up, instead of going straight for the heater.
These topics need to be part of an ongoing discussion from which some fantastic ideas will blossom and grow, steering us to healthier solutions for us and the planet.