An outstanding exemplar of innercity sustainable living, this new house in Melbourne also pushes the boundaries of contemporary design.
New house Melbourne, Vic
Globalization has meant that everything we desire as a consumer is available at any time and in any quantity. The events of the past year, however, have put a sharp focus on what is available locally – we’ve been shopping local, exercising in our neighbourhood parks and holidaying at home, or at least not too far from home. This emphasis on the “local” has long been known to have positive environmental impacts due to the reduction in carbon emissions caused by transportation. The short local supply chain – the processes by which food is grown and harvested, or construction materials are manufactured – is also generally more transparent and comprehensible. This contributes to a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products and services. Supporting local businesses, production and crafts is nothing new to many Australian architectural practices, including
John Wardle Architects (JWA). Limestone House, JWA’s latest single dwelling, sharpens this focus on the local by taking on the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge (LBC), a certification and advocacy tool based on tested experience. The LBC was paired with a high-thermal-performance Passive House system, creating a steep learning curve for the architects and resulting in an outstanding exemplar of inner-city sustainable living.
Limestone, the namesake of the project, is the dominant material inside and out. It was chosen both for its low embodied energy and durability and for its alluring fine texture, lustre and sculptural qualities. As the house was detailed, the architects started to imagine carving away at a solid stone block, which initiated an exploration into the language of carving and how to express depth. This is clearly evident in the west-facing street elevation, which presents as a bold form, with slithers of window sliced out from the thick limestone blockwork. Sourced from South Australia’s Mount Gambier, the same stone was famously used in Melbourne’s much-loved Heide II by McGlashan and Everist, completed in 1965. The graceful ageing of this material is evident in the exterior of Heide II, while the interior stone remains pristine and light-coloured; the same is intended for Limestone House.
Recycled timber complements the lightcoloured stone to create a warm, subdued interior palette. Discovering that local Forest Stewardship Council-certified hardwood is not easy to procure,
JWA selected reclaimed Hydrowood from Lake Pieman in Tasmania. This is pristine hardwood that has been preserved in floodwater and then dried out over a long period, giving it a slightly darker complexion. The recycled blackbutt shiplap weatherboards used externally were repurposed from a demolished shed in New South Wales. Many of the home’s fittings and fixtures are also locally sourced, including handcrafted basins by Tasmanian ceramicist Lindsey Wherrett and lighting by Melbourne-based glassmaker, designer and artist Mark Douglass.
Locally sourced materials are just one aspect of the LBC and of the incredibly complex sustainability agenda for the design of Limestone House. Moving beyond an adherence to minimum requirements and striving for true regeneration, the LBC consists of 20 imperatives grouped in seven performance categories or “petals”: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. The Passive House system, designed for extremely low air filtration and minimal thermal bridging, was implemented simultaneously and often the two environmental endeavours worked to benefit each other. For example, the LBC requires the house to generate 110 percent of its energy requirements and Passive House means that the home requires very little energy for heating and cooling. Therefore, the minimum requirement was easier to achieve. A 15-kilowatt photovoltaic cell system with battery storage was integrated into the roof, while all wastewater is managed onsite. This is essentially a self-sufficient inner-suburban house.
Passive House often relies on a prefabricated building system, where modules are insulated and sealed offsite, and this can lead to a boxy building form. Although environmental concerns were a major driving factor in the design of Limestone House, this needed to be balanced with maintaining the fine architectural prowess and complexity for which JWA buildings are known. As director John Wardle says, “We didn’t want the systems to overwhelm the design.” The complexity increased dramatically when customization of prefabricated modules was introduced, including the complete building of a two-storey structure (containing the client’s study) that was lifted in to sit within the central courtyard.
As you walk up the crisp concrete entry stairs that lead to a dramatic sculptural canopy and oversized door, there is no hint that the home has a sustainable agenda. Instead, there is a sense that you are entering a serene retreat. The noise of the street dampens and you can hear the fish moving around the pond in the central courtyard. The lofty living area is peppered with intricately detailed custom furniture pieces, adding an element of surprise for visitors and guests – of particular note is a custom iteration of the lazy Susan, involving two trays that move along the timber dining table.
The spatial sequencing of this home is masterfully choreographed, maintaining privacy from the surrounding properties while simultaneously forging a close connection to the garden pockets that surround and punctuate its perimeter. Planning pivots around the central courtyard with the fishpond, which also contains a purpose-made, operable sunshading device. A series of carefully framed views amplify the impact of the garden’s natural beauty – for example, a floor-to-ceiling fixed window in the kitchen zone highlights a view of an existing Chinese elm and allows diffuse southern light to enter the kitchen.
The client’s intense interest in environmental systems and the process of design was aptly matched by the well-known curiosity of John Wardle and his team. The knowledge that stems from this innate curiosity gives the architects the confidence to subvert conventional uses of materials and systems. In the case of Limestone House, this has led to a high-performing home with architectural flair. We should all take note of the possibility of an off-grid city home – and let’s hope that one day soon this will be a reality for many more of us.
External walls: Mount Gambier limestone cladding from Gem Group Holdings, installed by Wilmoore Allstone; recycled blackbutt shiplap weatherboards from Australian Architectural Hardwoods; entry steel reveal by Austeng
Internal walls: Mount Gambier limestone cladding; reclaimed oak wall lining from Hydrowood; brass detailing from Astor Metal Finishes Windows and doors: Recycled blackbutt curtain wall members and lift and slide doors from Australian Architectural Hardwoods, fabricated by
Tasman Windows; high-performance triple glazing from Australian Glass Group
Flooring: High-ridge siltstone tiles from Eidsvold Siltstone; reclaimed oak from Hydrowood Lighting: Mark Douglass dining room pendant; all other lighting from Lights and Tracks
Kitchen: V-Zug appliances; Inax Tsuya-Washi tile splashback from Artedomus; Rutso Concrete offwhite benchtops Bathroom: Mode Ash grey gloss wall tiles from Onsite; Porcelaingres Urban White tiles from Artedomus; Tiento Perla tiles; Metz Element White porcelain floor tiles; Venetian plaster from Melbourne Rendering Group;
Astra Walker fixtures and fittings; Lindsey Wherrett ceramic basins Heating and cooling: Passive House system with high-efficency heat pump and heat recovery External elements: Swimming pool designed and constructed by Phillip Johnson Landscapes; recycled blackbutt decking; Harcourt granite paving from Pyrenees Quarries; sandblasted off-white concrete entry steps
Other: Custom rattan balustrade by Camberwell Cane; Hydrowood oak dining table designed by the architect, made by Charles Sandford; Moroso Gentry sofa and armchair, Bloomy sidetable and Fjord ottoman from Hub Furniture; Molteni & C Outline dining chairs from Hub Furniture; custom living room rug by Jenny Jones Rugs