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The Australian Architects Designing New Houses For An Affordable Flat Fee

Sustainable Homes

From 1947 to the late ‘70s, the Small Homes Service (SHS) provided an affordable option for Victorians interested in an architect-designed house. Consumers could choose from a range of architect plans published in The Age (complete with working drawings and specifications), purchase them for a modest price, and have these constructed by a builder. 

The first SHS director, Robin Boyd, estimated at one stage around 40% of new homes in Melbourne were being built through the service.

The number of architect-designed homes has since dropped to an estimated 5% nationally – a figure that Architopia is hoping to change. Adopting a similar model to the SHS, the online platform allows individuals to purchase an architectural house design for a flat fee.

Speaking to founders Robert Duffield, Sophie Lindblom-Taylor, and Leon Morton, we learned what inspired this innovative model.

11th October, 2021

The Offset House design by Architopia – a new Australian business disrupting the architecture industry. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

Consumers can purchase the Offset house design plans in a package starting at $1950, then provide them to a builder to construct. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

The Offset House has an estimated build cost from $312,000, and has a 7.5 NatHERS rating. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

The cost of an Architopia package is a considerable saving on traditional architect fees, which are usually between 9-14% of a project’s total construction cost. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

Anyone can browse and download any of Architopia’s house designs including a 30+ page concept design pack. The architectural packages for purchase include detailed dimensions, specifications, schedules, customisation options, and even the original CAD files (computer-aided drafting) – everything required to approach a builder and confidently start the building process. 

Architopia’s latest design is the Silvertop House. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

The Architopia was partially inspired by the Small Homes Service than ran from 1947 to the late ‘70s. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

Architopia is not trying to undermine or undervalue architects, but for those unable to afford these services in their traditional form, the platform is a welcome alternative. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

 The mission of the business is to raise the standard of new housing in Australia; create a more environmentally responsible future; and make the client/architect relationship more transparent, accessible, and affordable. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

The Silvertop House has an estimated build cost from $384,000, and has a 7.5 NatHERS rating. Photo – Jo O’Keefe

The floor plan of Architopia’s Courtyard House.

Amelia Barnes
Monday 11th October 2021

‘We’re laser focused on continuing to provide an affordable means of building an architecturally-designed home to as many Australians as possible.’

Recognising the value of architect-designed houses but often prohibitive cost, friends and designers Robert Duffield, Sophie Lindblom-Taylor, and Leon Morton founded Architopia in 2020. The architect (Robert), building designer (Leon), and interior designer (Sophie) were frustrated with the lack of truly affordable and environmentally-responsible new housing options available for most Australians, so they decided to do something about it.

The business is an online platform that offers comprehensive architectural packages to start building your home. Prices for these packages start at $1950, and include detailed dimensions, specifications, schedules, customisation options, and even the original CAD files (computer-aided drafting) – everything required to approach a builder and confidently start the building process. 

The cost of an Architopia package is a considerable saving on architectural fees for a custom-designed home, which are usually between 9-14% of a project’s total construction cost. Of the Architopia designs currently released, the estimated building costs range from $312,000 to $343,000.

Architopia is a direct response to the current volume housing market, and the lack of quality options for people on smaller budgets who still want to make a positive impact when looking to build a new home. The Architopia model isn’t about undermining bespoke architectural services – moreover, it’s about making architectural home design accessible for more people. The mission of the business is to raise the standard of new housing in Australia; create a more environmentally responsible future; and make the client/architect relationship more transparent, accessible, and affordable.

Robert, Sophie and Leon joined us for a chat about the business and what’s in store. 

What stops many Australians from living in an architect-designed house?

Robert: Only 5% of new homes are designed by an architect! This could partially be due to the stigma that architects are not a service for first home buyers, or because the value and effort are hard to see until you’re actually in the space. However, we believe that nowadays people are starting to put a higher value on the space they live in, how it makes them feel, and how it impacts their lifestyle. That has been the foundation of our business; to provide homes that you are excited to tell your friends about. 

Architopia is a disruptor to the traditional architectural process, as much as it is to the volume built housing model. We offer user-friendly spatial layouts that are adaptable, environmentally-responsible, and importantly, cost-efficient to build. As the Architopia model continues to grow, it’s proof that more Australians are becoming attracted to how their house performs, rather than how large it is.

Was the Architopia model inspired by the Small Homes Service?

Leon: The Small Homes Service, directed by Robin Boyd and supported by many other accomplished architects of the time, was a source of inspiration for Architopia. Over the past few decades we’ve seen an increased focus on higher density housing solutions for capital cities, and today we’re seeing excellent new initiatives tackle this problem such as Nightingale Housing. However, detached houses still account for 70% of Australia’s total dwelling stock… According to the Grattan Institute, today’s record level of housing construction is the bare minimum needed to meet record levels of population growth driven by rapid migration. So today, more than ever, it’s absolutely critical that a more refined, affordable, and sustainable form of detached housing is made accessible to Australians.

Sophie: Like most students of architecture, we all studied the RVIA small homes model whilst at university, so it was undoubtedly a source of inspiration. However, I wouldn’t say that Architopia is an attempt to resurrect it by any means. Primarily, Architopia is a direct response to the current volume housing market and the lack of quality options for people on smaller budgets who still want to make a positive impact with their new home build.

What are your favourite features of the Offset House design, and your new Silvertop House design?

Robert: For a three or four bedroom home, both the Offset House and Silvertop House have modest footprints compared to the average Australian new home build. This is something that we are actually very proud of – we wear it as a badge of pride! We’re always working hard to pack a lot of functionality into relatively small footprints. But the homes don’t feel small or cramped by any means. They’re full of natural light, have distinct separation between the living and sleeping zones, and positively interact with their surrounding natural environment.

But perhaps our favourite feature of these designs is how much our clients love living in them. For us, that’s the real test – their lived experience, how they exist and interact with the space on a daily basis, speaks volumes. We’re very open about what our clients report back to us. On our website we actually include detailed case studies with client interviews, energy saving statistics, client photos, and more. We believe in being as honest and upfront as possible.

What are your future plans for Architopia? 

Leon: Currently, we’re laser focused on continuing to provide an affordable means of building an architecturally-designed home to as many Australians as possible. In the short term, we plan to expand our range of designs to create a portfolio of truly diverse and engaging homes. There are a lot of Australians living under different circumstances which we’d like to cater for – whether it be as a single parent, a group of friends, a remote worker, or a family of 5+.

In the long term we’ll be looking to collaborate more heavily with other architects and builders. Our belief is that by collaborating with other architects and builders, together we can grow the platform, diversify our offerings, and effectively streamline the design and build process for more Australians. So, ambitious architects and builders out there, come and say hello!

Readers of The Design Files can receive a 10% discount on any Architopia package. Simply enter the code THEDESIGNFILES at the Architopia checkout

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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