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A Sustainable Inner-Suburban Home, Designed To Be Deconstructed + Reused

Sustainable Homes

Breathe Architecture is a practice that openly prioritises ethics over aesthetics, but both elements have been achieved in this innovative Melbourne home. 

With the exception of the shower, every piece of the house’s cladding and decking has been screwed and bolted together (rather than glued, cemented or permanently fixed), enabling materials to be dismantled and reused at the end of the building’s life. It’s also a remarkably textural home, incorporating recycled timbers and rammed earth reflective of its natural surroundings facing Edgars Creek in Coburg North. 

This story is the most recent in our Sustainable Homes collaboration with Bank Australia. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the expert advice and previous homes in this series, from a new inner-city apartment to a retrofitted country home.

22nd September, 2020

This Melbourne house is located on the former Kodak factory site, and faces Edgars Creek. Photo – Tom Ross.

Breathe designed the house’s floor plan as three pavilions (for sleeping, bathing, and living), connected by a central ‘brise soleil’. Photo – Tom Ross.

The perfect city nook. Photo – Tom Ross.

All materials in the home all raw and exposed, with no tiles or finishes used. Photo – Tom Ross.

The kitchen bench top is made from recycled messmate, and is complemented by recycled Tasmanian oak flooring. Photo – Tom Ross.

 The sunken living room with creek views is finished in stone for thermal mass. Photo – Tom Ross.

A rammed earth wall shields the southern facade, resembling the sandstone cliffs of the creek below. Photo – Tom Ross.

The rammed earth uses twin wall construction with an insulated core, providing the building with a stable indoor temperature year round. Photo – Tom Ross.

The use of class 1 raw ironbark in the home will silver over time, and last indefinitely without ever requiring painting or oiling. Photo – Tom Ross.

The home’s open-air yet covered walkway faces the creek on the home’s west, providing a visual connection to water and climate, while physically joining all areas of the home. Photo – Tom Ross.

Amelia Barnes
Tuesday 22nd September 2020

‘Materially, the building becomes part of the landscape, rather than an object inserted into the site.’ – Jeremy McLeod

It’s not often an idyllic creekside site in inner-suburban Melbourne becomes available, so for the lucky owners who purchased this Coburg North site, they knew a particularly special home was required.

This block is actually located on the former Kodak factory site, which was demolished and subdivided almost 10 years ago. While most of this land went on to become a modern townhouse development, this site on an escarpment remained separate, and is one of the only properties that directly faces Edgars Creek. 

Recognising this rare opportunity to embrace the land, the owners engaged sustainable design leaders Breathe Architecture to create a respectful, beautiful home. ‘Our client wanted to be connected to nature, both visually and physically. They wanted to build a lot with a little, and they wanted to reduce their impact on the planet,’ says Jeremy McLeod, founding director of Breathe Architecture. ‘The house’s position at the edge of a future suburban development inspired us to think of how a house could act as a gateway to Edgars Creek, and also hint at what lies beyond the escarpment.’

The vision for the house was clear – create a fossil fuel free home using local, recycled materials wherever possible. Breathe took this a step further, taking into account the life cycle of the building from the very outset. Jeremy explains, ‘Every piece of cladding and decking was screwed and bolted together, with the exception of the shower, to allow it to be unscrewed, unbolted and reused at the end of the building’s life.’ 

Breathe designed the house’s floor plan as three pavilions (for sleeping, bathing, and living), connected by a central ‘brise soleil’. This open-air yet covered walkway faces the creek on the home’s west, providing a visual connection to water and climate, while physically joining all areas of the home. ‘Our client wanted to experience the warm air in summer and the crisp air in winter,’ explains Jeremy. ‘They wanted to be connected to nature and its seasons, as opposed to being in a hermetically sealed, artificial environment.’

The material palette is a further reflection of the site, incorporating quality, raw ironbark cladding matching the surrounding ironbark trees, and rammed earth reminiscent of sandstone cliffs near the creek below. These materials are both known for their enduring qualities, particularly the raw ironbark that Jeremy says will last indefinitely without ever needing painting or oiling. ‘Materially, the building becomes part of the landscape, rather than an object inserted into the site,’ he says. 

Also integrated in the design are custom copper pipes, raw brass taps, a recycled messmate kitchen bench top, and recycled Tasmanian oak flooring. These materials are all raw and exposed, with no tiles or finishes used. 

Additional sustainable features of the property include two 5000 litre underground rainwater tanks, an electric heat pump for hot water heating, and double-glazed windows. These factors, paired with the lack of fossil-fuel generated energy in the home, sees this house attain an impressive 7.2 NatHERs rating. 

It’s not easy to create a functional, suburban four-bedroom home that treads lightly on the earth, but Breathe Architecture have proved this can absolutely be achieved.

This story is part of our series on Sustainable Homes, brought to you in partnership with Bank Australia. 

Bank Australia’s Clean Energy Home Loan offers a discounted home loan rate if you buy or build a home that exceeds a 7-star NatHERS rating, or have made ambitious green upgrades in the last 12 months. Find out more here!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net