house of the future
in 2004 environa studio, with five other leading sydney architectural practices, was invited to design a prefabricated portable house to showcase ideas for living a sustainable future.  each house featured the use of a particular building material, ours was a masonry courtyard house. the exhibit, displayed for 3 weeks on the forecourt of the sydney opera house then relocated to sydney olympic park where it was on exhibition for 6 months.

this project exploits the inherent thermal mass properties of clay products, demonstrating development of the notion of ‘reverse brick veneer’.  the external cladding, an innovative rain screen skin of terracotta tiles on an aluminum armature and the internal walls provided the thermal mass.

design concept: 
we used clay bricks and pavers in a courtyard plan to create a very private house, that could fit a small land area, and have high level of thermal comfort. the mass of the clay products increased the thermal efficiency of the house, making it warmer in winter and cooler in summer, without using artificial heating or air conditioning.

clay as a material: 
clay products offer 4 great advantages that made them ideal for the house: durability, security, mass + acoustic control. bricks + tiles are solid, long lasting and provide an ideal walling for a courtyard house offering security at the perimeter and excellent sound isolation. within the interior they provide thermal mass storing winter sun warmth for cooler periods. in summer they can be cooled by breezes, particularly at night, so they can store coolth to offset the heat of the day. a conventional cavity brick wall will perform better than most other forms of construction, the house, with it’s insulated cavity and tile external skin, will outperform the traditional cavity brick.

the inside out upside down house: 
this house uses clay products in a different way to typical house construction. unlike a conventional house with a timber frame + decorative veneer of brickwork and tiled roof, the house has, the bricks on the inside as the structure and uses clay tiles on the floor and external walls. placing the thermal mass on the inside where it can do most good allows for it to be insulated behind the external wall tiles. it also increases the load bearing strength of the house allowing it to have a roof garden.

the plan: a solarium courtyard: 
the house is centred around a “solarium courtyard”, an indoor-outdoor space acting as both living area and internal courtyard. all the rooms of the house open onto this sky-lit space, opening onto a veranda, which opens onto a garden. the adjustable roof, folding doors and glass window louvres of the solarium allow the occupants to adapt this room to varying degrees of openness for different uses. both an indoor and outdoor space for varying activities at different times of the year.

courtyard housing:we face many issues with the future of suburban housing. in australia there is a prevalence for what we refer to as the 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 phenomenon. the average block is half the size of 50 years ago, yet, the average house is twice as big. as a result, houses are often two storey, often with overshadowing and privacy problems. and now those houses have less occupants than before, as low as 2 people per dwelling. the single storey “solarium courtyard” house addressees all these issues. the plan versatility creates a smaller footprint for a 3 bedroom house which can fit on a site of 250 - 300 square metres, (including car parking and garden). this means we can accommodate 3 to 4 houses, all with the privacy + outdoor areas we value, in an area where 50 years ago was one home.

other plans: 
the square form of the courtyard can be expanded on two, three or four sides. the exhibition clay house is only one of many possible versions, that could be built. ideally the houses would be grouped together so that the rear wall of one house becomes the courtyard wall of the next house and so on. in this way, greater efficiencies of land use are possible without the loss of suburban amenity with its private outdoor space and gardens.

the solarium roof: 
the solarium roof is constructed of multiple layers to control the passage of energy and light in and out of the house. the top surface of the roof has photo voltaic cells embedded in the glazing that produce electric power and allow light to pass through. the adjustable aluminium louvres, sandwiched in the centre of the roof section, can be electronically adjusted to control the light and shade. the ceiling below the louvres is double glazed polycarbonate for insulation.

seasonal operation: 
during winter, the roof louvres can open during the day adjusting to the angle of the sun allowing heat to be stored for the evening in the thermal mass of the brickwork. at night the louvres are shut, the combination of the glazing layers and closed louvres seal in the warmth keeping the occupants comfortable without artificial heating. in summer, the roof louvres are closed during the day, providing shade, and with the doors open the solarium becomes a veranda or courtyard. at night the louvres open vertically allowing the thermal mass of the house to cool down by radiating its heat through the roof into the night sky. this cooling is assisted by the cross ventilating evening breezes. thus the thermal mass stores “coolth” for the next day, keeping the occupants cool without air conditioning. the roof louvres can be controlled to let in a variety of light levels with or without direct sunlight.

the portable house: 
for this exhibition the house was based around 6 shipping containers: 3 for the internal rooms and 3 for the solarium. this allowed us to make the house off site in a factory, then transport the entire house (and its contents) on 3 low loader trucks to the site and to crane the entire house into place in just 4 hours. in reverse it can be disassembled, uploaded onto the trucks and taken off to its next destination in the same time. this experiment shows that you can make a transportable house in bricks.

the prefab brick house: it is more likely that prefab clay brick houses will be made in brick panels, like the 2400 x 1200 wall panels shown in this house. this would allow large wall panels to be made, including windows and doors, that could be then trucked and craned into place onto a cast concrete slab, building more quickly than conventional on site brick laying. the strength of these panels would make the core of the house support the roof or upper floors. the panels could be clad in a variety of coverings including clay, conventional or ultra thin face bricks.

floor structure: 
the house floor is a steel frame with concrete panels for portability, a permanent house may have a fully precast concrete panel floor, with a water storage tank under the floor of the solarium. the tank, about 1 metre deep, could have a concrete base and cover that forms the floor of the solarium, increasing the thermal mass of the house. the tank provides fresh water for the house and provides a source of thermally stable water that can be circulated brought the slab to heat and cool the house.

basix: 
this house excels at meeting the requirements of the nsw government regulations for energy and water saving. the thermal comfort energy is greatly reduced with the measures outlined above. further savings in energy and the water saving measures are outlined below.

electricity:the solarium roof is capable of being fitted with up to 30 square metres of photo voltaic cells, at a nominal power rating of 38w/sqm, giving a possible power generation in excess of 1 kw. this energy can be fed back through the electricity meter to save costs (grid connected) or it could be stored in batteries if the house is off grid.

lighting: 
there were no ceiling lights in the house, only concealed wall pelmets providing up light to the ceiling, providing a more diffuse and uniform light.

water: rainwater was collected from the landscape roofs into vertical holding tanks between the internal walls, storing water for use in the gardens. the rainwater that falls on the solarium and veranda roofs is collected in the central box gutter of the butterfly roof, stored in tanks under the solarium floor where it serves 2 purposes: it is cleaned and used for all the fresh water in the house; and it provides a huge “thermal well” for use in hydronic heating and cooling panels around the house.

bathroom: 
the bathroom was set up as a non-working prototype to show an alternative way to plan a prefabricated bathroom. rather than have all the fittings (basin, wc, shower etc) separated on the walls with pipes in between, here the fittings are collected onto one t shaped structure that would require only one hot, cold and waste connection. the toilet pan is designed as composting toilet; the angled seat gives better posture and the shape allows for urine and faeces separation allowing for a more efficient composting function.

mobile furniture: 
as houses get smaller in area (to compensate for smaller sites, environmental concerns and increasing costs) it would be increasingly useful to have flexibly designed furniture that can be moved around the house so that rooms can be used for different purposes at different times of the day and night and in varying seasons. the furniture was designed by environa studio to be mobile and flexible: the kitchen can be used in the solarium as a bbq, the main table can become a work bench or even a bed, the bed can be used as a couch or day bed in one room and wheeled into another as a bed for the evening, the table is a desk in the study, the stools can be used with the large table etc.

recycling: 
when the house is no longer needed it can be completely unbolted (the house bolted together in modular pieces) and moved to another site for reuse, or the separated parts can be sent for reuse and recycling.

presenting sponsors: clay brick and paver association,
silver sponsors: austral bricks,  csr pgh,  boral bricks, vantage aluminium joinery, caesarstone,  jwi louvres.
bronze sponsors: arcs all round carpentary services, eureka tiles, complete metro lighting, ripa steel, harvey norman, samsung, marsupial landscapes, nilsen electrical.
architects: environa studio
engineers: macartney engineering consultants
builder: arcs, phillip grueff

articles

sydney olympic park, house of the future brochure 19 february 2005
architecture bulletin 'clay house of the future' march 2005
s.m.h. 'domain' supplement 14 october 2004
daily telegraph 8th october 2004
sydney olympic park, house of the future october 2004
bcme magazine 'house of cards' october 2004
s.m.h. 'domain' supplement 'mission green' 5 august 2004