Tait Birdcabin

They provide a place for birds to nest, rest and refuge in areas where hollows have diminished. They are crafted from spotted gum timber off-cuts salvaged and reused from the Tait factory floor and a single piece of cleverly folded steel.

Birdcabins are designed to hang from a tree or a verandah with openings carefully sized to allow a bird to fit in and feel safe, without being followed in by a predator. Even though they are designed to hang, to make them more appealing to birds you may want to fix them so they are stable, more like a hollow. The use of untreated timber also addresses bird life disdain of foreign smells. $170


Earthships land in northern NSW

Earthship design includes thermal mass and cross ventilation and can also include greywater reuse for plants, blackwater treatment onsite, renewable energy systems and water capture and storage. Beth from Sanctuary caught up with Duuvy Jester from northern NSW to chat about learning about and building these energy efficient homes.

Beth – I get the impression you have travelled to America to learn more about Earthships – where did you go and who did you learn from? Are these buildings more common over there?

Duuvy – I went to Taos, New Mexico (south west America) to study and build with Michael Reynolds and the Earthship Biotecture crew. I just went there to learn how to build an off-grid house for myself, I didn’t realise that I would leave with a fully comprehensive understanding of collective unity with its social and environmental relevance! When we were there, we were taught the physics, science, philosophy, legislative process, design process, and the physical application of these types of homes, which is really an adaptable concept at its foundation.

Mike did most of the lectures which was totally invaluable. He is an outstanding teacher – very funny, informative and inspiring. We did a complete start to finish build as well as four other retro-fit projects.

The buildings are more common over there because the company has been around for the past 40 years perfecting them out in the desert and beyond. Over the past 20 years or so, they have been branching out and doing international builds.

Beth – Can you tell me a little bit about the collective in northern NSW that is building Earthships?

The collective consists primarily of myself, Ian and Caroline Todd. I come up with design concepts, Ian is the structural expert and Caroline is a permaculture teacher. We all facilitate the build with the help of a very skilled crew of rotating facilitators.

The vision is to empower people with real life skills at the same time as teaching them the theory behind the building technology through lectures and onsite tutoring.

Beth – You mention that you built a hemp roof; can you tell me a little about that?

Duuvy – Hemp is a great material to work with. It is a very good insulator, it is pest resistant, fire resistant and anti bacterial. It is also very simple to use. It’s made up of mainly hemp husks, a lime based binder and a bit of sand and water – that’s it! It also has a very long curing cycle so over time it cures harder than concrete.

Beth – What’s it like building with a group of people? Is there a lot of repetitive work involved that lends itself to a principle of ‘many hands making light work’?

Duuvy – Working with a group of people is very satisfying on many levels. For one, it gets the job done much quicker than it would with a handful of builders and labourers. You get to engage in practices like ‘chain gangs’ and finding new and interesting ways to utilise many workers. It also creates an inspiring environment where people are taken out of their regular lifestyles and put into a temporary community. They live, sleep, eat, work and learn together. This is the setting for a very intimate work space. There has even been onsite romances (two of which that has lasted to this day), new friendships and new partnerships. I wouldn’t go back to regular work site dynamics, even if you paid me!

Image: An Earthship in Bundaberg, Queensland. Photo by Campbell Imray

Take a look at Duuvy’s website and collective Terraeden

The art of environmental remediation with oysters

The project seeks to educate people about the river, its history and its pollutants.

Heavy metals sitting on the bottom in the sediment of the Derwent river include zinc, lead and cadmium. These pollutants come from a history of industrial discharge from a zinc smelter established in 1917, zinc roofs, a paper mill and wastewater treatment plants.

Oysters are good indicators of the amount of bio-available heavy metals in the water. They filter around 50 litres of water a day for algae and other food, collecting heavy metals that are present.

Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA) are collaborating with MONA. They plan to build two structures – one called the Oyster Pontoon in the river in front of MONA, and the other a ‘retaining wall’, a large public pavilion, where people can encase oysters into a concrete brick.

This pontoon is essentially a small-scale oyster farm, and will culture native mud oysters as a tool to filter metals from the Derwent.

The Oyster Pontoon will be the scientific research hub from which scientists gather data about the river. At the end of their life, the oysters will not have died in vain, but will be heroically entombed in a columbarium in a retaining wall on MONA’s lawn.

This ‘Oyster Mausoleum’ will become a part of MONA’s summer MoMa market, with visitors invited to encase their own hero oyster from the pontoon into a concrete brick before placing it in the retaining wall.

The project is part of a greater project called Heavy Metal that will stretch along the banks of the river Derwent. It also includes a heavy metal concert at the museum itself.

For more information go to the MADA website: http://www.artdes.monash.edu.au

Image: An artist’s impression of the oyster/concrete retaining wall at MONA.

New suburban: Remaking the family home in Australia & New Zealand

Stuart Harrison

Thames & Hudson, 2013

AUS $70

Suburban ideals are firmly planted in Australian home design and the suburbs remain the place where many of us choose to live. How we choose to live in them, however, is changing. Architect and author Stuart Harrison explores how architects are re-examining the suburban ideal and designing homes that fit more appropriately into its contemporary fold. From a warehouse that can sleep up to 30 to an urban infill with a green roof, the possibilities of suburban housing are stretched and explored in this book that covers case studies from around Australia and New Zealand.

Home orientation

How important is northern orientation in house design? Can we design a sustainable home without taking it into consideration? Why do project home designers so rarely seem to worry about it?

When I speak to people about passive design, I usually break it up into seven elements to make it easy to understand and remember. Some other experts break it into five, but no matter – everybody agrees that the orientation of the building with respect to north is the starting point. Granted, different latitudes in Australia require different approaches: tropical climes require the sun be held at bay pretty much all year, since the sun is both more powerful and tracks much further south in summer. In the tropics, orientation to north is important only in elevated, cooler localities like Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands.

But orientation is very important in temperate and cool climate zones. When the building is able to admit the sun during cold seasons and shut it out when it’s hot, the other six principles of passive design – spatial zoning, thermal mass, ventilation, insulation, shading, and the glazing that links these together – can be balanced to create homes that require minimal active heating or cooling. When all seven principles, including orientation, are applied successfully enough to achieve an 8-star equivalent rating, the need for any active cooling is rare, and any heating required will be further reduced.

Image: The Illawarra Flame dining area. Rui Yan

Healthy Home

Using a quiz-based format, the Healthy Home app aims to reduce pollutants in your home by guiding you through both the positive and negative aspects of your home. It includes helpful tips, solutions, information and challenges. Users can add notes, take photos and save their favourite tips.

$1.99; iPhone, iPad, iPod

More about this app

Changing gears: A pedal-powered detour from the rat race

Greg Foyster
Affirm Press, 2013

Battling with his workplace’s consume-or-die ethos and his own growing environmental ideals, Greg Foyster (with partner Sophie Chishkovsky) decides to abandon all and cycle up the east coast of Australia. Throughout the journey Greg shares insights from some of the most forward-thinking environmentalists he meets on the way, including those who are passionate about shifting down a few gears.

Building with bamboo

Lightweight and with the tensile weight-for-weight strength of mild steel, bamboo has been used as a building material across Asia and beyond for thousands of years. A grass rather than a timber, in the right conditions bamboo can grow up to 30cm a day, and can be harvested without destroying the original plant. These qualities make bamboo one of the world’s most sustainable building materials.

Because of its fast growing time, ability to absorb carbon and its versatility, bamboo is frequently used in ‘green’ building products in Australia. It is usually used in one of three ways: as a laminate, for its fibre, or less commonly, as a dried, usually woven material. Laminated products are used widely for flooring.

Although bamboo is used in a wide range of products in Australia it is not currently rated as a structural building material, but this could change. Architectural designer at Cave Urban, Nici Long, designs and builds bamboo structures, including temporary pavilions and shelters for special events such as the annual Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. She values bamboo for its sustainability and ease of use. “Bamboo is incredibly easy to work with so a whole community can get involved with a project,” She says. “It’s lightweight, with low embodied energy and it’s biodegradable.”

Beyond bamboo building
For founders of Giant Grass, Mittul and Munir Vahanvati, bamboo is much more than a building material. It’s also a tool for education, collaboration and social entrepreneurship: “For us it’s not just about the outcome, it’s as much about the process,” says Mittul. Bamboo was a chief component for their ‘bamboo loveshack’ (as seen at left), built as a permanent shelter in partnership with University of New South Wales architectural students as part of a practical sustainable resource unit.

Giant Grass also run a range of hands-on workshops for all ages: www.giantgrassdesign.com/workshops

Image courtesy of Jaye Irving, Barefoot Design: The prototype ‘Boo Cottage’ in Bangalow NSW by Barefoot Design.