Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How For Small Space Living

Step by step guides to maintenance, worm farming or even container options for the urban gardener are detailed, yet digestible. Crammed with expert advice, case studies and tips on rowing your own composting community with green (albeit American) parties, Compost City is a playful and accessible book for composters new and seasoned alike.

Rebecca Louie

Roost Books, 2015


Shared living: energy density, affordability and social sustainability

Australia’s cities have a problem: they’re sprawling outward, propagating energy-inefficient suburban housing and cannibalising arable land with large, low-density dwellings. By world standards, this model of living is pretty weird. Far more common is dense urban housing with flexible, often multi-generational dwellings where a variety of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and children live together, sharing care, chores and resources.

For Sydney architect Andrew Benn and his wife Alice Penna, it was an appealing model, one that promised economies of scale in Sydney’s expensive property market but also a way of life that would enable them to sustain strong family connections.

When Andrew’s mother Suzanne, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at UTS Business School, sold the large family terrace in Sydney, Andrew and Alice, and Suzanne and Suzanne’s partner set about creating a ‘family complex’ where they could all live together while maintaining a sense of privacy and their own busy lives.

Andrew worked to renovate two adjacent Victorian worker’s cottages in Sydney’s Balmain, adding a small, self-contained apartment. The project would eventually win the NSW Architecture Awards in 2014, but not without its fair share of hurdles. Andrew needed to make sure that the design incorporated everyone’s desire for privacy while enabling light, liveable spaces. On top of that, both cottages lay within Balmain’s heritage area, which restricted possible changes, particularly regarding changes to the streetscape.

However, there was one crucial aspect they didn’t need to worry about; the cottages had north-facing rears. “I’d lived in a larger, but south-facing terrace, and it made me realise the importance of sun and light, especially in the parts of the house where you do the most living – generally out the back in the kitchen and living area,” Suzanne says.

Secondhand materials, including bricks and floors were used, while shared solar panels and water tanks make the most of the family’s inter-generational complex. But while the building is environmentally sustainable, it’s the social sustainability that especially appeals to Suzanne. For instance, the additional small apartment adds to the flexibility of the housing, meaning that more family members, perhaps a grandchild, or, at some stage, a carer, could move in too.

Flexible housing that accommodates more than one or two generations is increasingly popular, especially in inner city areas of Australia where land prices are high. It’s a model that Tone Wheeler, principal architect at Environa Studio, is familiar with. “Australians want more flexible housing, housing that responds to modern lives, and especially housing that supports multi-generational living,” he says. This kind of housing, “satisfies the ‘triple bottom line’ of energy density, affordability and social sustainability.”


Socially responsible design blog

The brainchild of a team of industrial designers and engineers from Melbourne firm CobaltNiche, the content is guided by the idea that designers have a social responsibility to improve the world. With insightful posts about products that address a need rather than a want, profiles of design visionaries such as Victor Papanek, analysis of materials, and guest contributions from sustainability experts, Less By Design is a fantastic springboard for diving in to the world of ethical design.

Small is Beautiful: A Tiny House documentary

Small is Beautiful documents the lives of four people at different stages in their own tiny house journeys. Twenty-something Ben is spending his inheritance on materialising his design, while Nikki and Mitchell are idealists, hoping to get in touch with their nomadic roots. Fifty-year-old Karen has been living in her tiny Oregon house for two years, and is working on growing the tiny house network around her.

Far from glorifying the quaint idea of living little, Small is Beautiful truthfully portrays the strains of designing, building and then adjusting to life in a tiny house.

Sanctuary was a media partner for Small is Beautiful’s Melbourne premiere.

The Living Building Challenge

How would you feel if your actions to improve your living space could also help you be part of a bigger, inspiring movement that aims to create a “socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative” future for us all? Developed in the USA and launched in 2006, with the first buildings certified in 2010, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a rigorous performance standard for the built environment. It calls for the creation of buildings that “operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture”.

Going beyond basic considerations of building sustainability, the LBC is a framework for our built environment that asks that a true sustainable answer to our housing and lifestyle challenges actually looks like. And how is a new approach going to be positive and regenerative? Happily, the guidelines are also poetic and inspiring, recognising the importance of beauty and delight in achieving sustainable outcomes.

It should be acknowledged that it is called the Living Building Challenge because it is a challenge. There are many considerations it raises that in today’s world are not standard practice, and need to be approached in ways that are outside the normal way of thinking and doing. The Challenge asks you to imagine “a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower: a building informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, and that operates efficiently and for maximum beauty.”

Wow. Not just less bad–but truly good and beautiful. And inspiring. What does this mean for your home? At the very least, it provides a framework for thinking through the whole project to ensure you are covering all the necessary elements for a comfortable and high-performing house for the  long term. It helps extend the boundaries of what you believe can be achieved. As Michelangelo said, “The great danger is not that we aim too high and miss the target, but that we aim too low and hit it”.

If you do embrace the LBC principles in the planning and construction of your home, you can apply for Living Building certification. To be certified under the Challenge, projects must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements in seven categories called Petals:Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty.

Caroline Pidcock is director of Sydney-based architecture firm Pidcock – Architecture and Sustainability and a founding director of the Living Future Institute the organisation that introduced the Living Building Challenge to Australia.

House and garden: an integrated approach

Let’s consider the ways we can minimise energy and resource use by integrating the outdoors and the built environment. There is the obvious role that plants can play in providing shade. We all know the difference the shade of a tree can make on hot and sunny days. But there are many less obvious ways they can benefit our indoor spaces.

On those sunny days when plants are photosynthesising their food from sunlight, they also transpire water from their leaf surfaces. Kind of like sweating, it keeps the plants cool and has the added benefit of cooling the surrounding air. Leaves also provide a perfect surface for water vapour in the air to condense upon, warming the leaf surface and surrounding air. Simply put, this means that plants have the effect of moderating the temperature and the humidity of their surroundings. For more comfortable and stable temperatures year round, and a reduced reliance on electricity or gas for heating and cooling it makes sense to make use of plants around the home.

Not only can the landscape benefit the home, but the building itself can be of great use to the landscape. Consider how physical and energy resources like the wind and sunlight move through your site. The shading and wind buffering effects created by the building can allow for ecological niches and a greater diversity of plant life.

The home is also a source of resources that can help a garden thrive. Rainwater harvesting and grey-water recycling systems can provide an additional supply of water through the dry times. We all know water wants to run downhill so why not design to use gravity to move water to where it is needed instead of pumps. Planning for the redirection and use of grey-water and stormwater for your garden early on, around your plumbing system, will avoid difficult or costly infrastructure changes later.

A large volume of organic material from the kitchen can be directed to compost, worm farms or even to the humble chicken where the nutrients will be conditioned to improve soil and plants. And if you play your cards right, you could even be rewarded with fresh fruit, vegies and eggs.

Gordon Williams is a permaculture landscape gardener and principal of Free Range Food Gardens in Sydney.

Design plan courtesy of Designful and Good Life Permaculture.


Sustainable House Day 2015

Sustainable House Day 2015 will feature over 200 environmentally responsible Australian homes, including urban, rural, retrofit, purpose-built and owner-builder properties. It is a valuable resource for anyone looking for inspiration, ideas and the key to sustainable living. In many locations experienced builders, architects, designers and sustainability group members will be on hand to provide firsthand expert advice.

Sanctuary 32 profiles just some of the houses open across Australia. You can download a PDF of some of the highlights of the day here.

Sustainable House Day gives anyone from industry professional to curious novice an insight into just how much can be gained from going green. Visit the Sustainable House Day website to register to attend, open your house, or to check out the full list of houses.

The 2015 Sustainable House Day is hosted by EnviroShop and the ATA.

Sustainable housing workshops in Auckland

Bernhardt, author of the book ‘A Deeper Shade of Green: Sustainable Urban Development Building and Architecture in New Zealand’ is running a series of workshops at the Kaipatiki Project Environment Centre. The Kaipatiki Project aim to create a totally sustainable Auckland.

Johann is the director of Bernhardt Architecture Ltd. He has a PhD in urban development and a lifetime’s work as an architect, urban designer and researcher under his belt. Johann lectures on sustainable design and building at the Architecture Department of the University of Auckland (UoA). He runs the Auckland office of the Building Biology and Ecology Institute (BBE), researching, compiling and disseminating information on healthy and environmentally friendly building and living.

Learn how to create a passive solar, healthy, energy and water efficient, and cost effective living environment over three sessions which will address such topics as:

Introduction to the major house styles in Auckland

Choice of building materials

Energy and water efficiency

For more information visit: