If you’re building, plan for long-life, adaptable housing
NOT long after completing his architecture degree in 2007, Mathieu Gallois went on holiday to Lorne, on the Great Ocean Road. He stayed in a “big block box”, owned by a friend.
“I was struck how this home was contrary to everything we’d been taught about how to build a good sustainable house,” Mr Gallois recalls. “I was thinking, ‘What do you do with homes like this?’”
His answer is Reincarnated McMansion, a mix of architecture and art project, designed to challenge the way we think about our energy-sapping dwellings.
“Our proposal is to get a large unsustainable house, take it apart, and reuse the great majority of the materials to build two or three best-practice, zero-emission homes on the same site,” he explains.
The project also deconstructs the notion of a housing shortage in Australian cities. “Our new homes are three times as big as new homes in the UK,” he says. “There’s plenty of room for everybody. It’s just that we’re electing to live in bigger and bigger homes with fewer people in them.”
Now based in Sydney, Mr Gallois and his team hope to secure funding in the coming months. As well as making a point, the scheme should turn a profit: once constructed and displayed, the reincarnations will be sold.
While the designs will depend on the site, one key strategy will be to crush the old dwelling’s brick veneer and convert it into a type of rammed-earth interior wall, for thermal mass.
“All those materials we associate with suburbia – concrete, terracotta tiles and red bricks – will be visible in the Reincarnated McMansions,” he says.
The project will embrace a concept of green design championed by one of its members, architect Tone Wheeler, from Environa Studio. He’s coined the “three L’s” of sustainable building: long-life, loose-fit and low-impact.
In a conventional building, Mr Wheeler says, too little thought goes into the varied lifespans of component parts. Instead, we should consider buildings in two sections: the main frame, and the services and fittings.
“The long-life section is the structure of the building, the thing you can imagine lasting between one and two hundred years,” he says. The embodied energy of the structure doesn’t matter, so long as it is built to last.
The rest – the plumbing, wiring, sanitary-ware, heating and cooling, and interior – should be installed in a way that’s easy to adapt.
“You use a spanner, not a hammer,” Mr Wheeler says. “It’s not nailed and glued in place, but bolted so you can undo and remove it.”
Typically, bathrooms and kitchens are replaced every twenty years, and the renovations produce a lot of waste. “The wiring and plumbing is buried in the wall so you’ve got to rip off the plaster. You have to re-build the building.”
The third “L”, low-impact, relates to the fit-out. “We need to concentrate on using green materials for things like the carpet, paint and furniture. Think about the longevity, maintenance and renewal of those parts, and choose as good quality as you can find,” he says.
Mr Wheeler’s firm now designs houses so they can be split into two or three apartments in the future. “We need to recognise that buildings are continually updated, and design them in a way that can adapt to change,” he says.