Beyond greener pastures
- The long standing Currumbin Ecovillage in Queensland's hinterland.
- The view from the first completed house and the display centre at The Cape, an 8.2 Star rated family home.
- Steffen Welsch Architects' design for one of the Mullum Creek lots.
- The interior of Steffen Welsch Architects' Mullum Creek design.
Sanctuary takes a look at some leading examples of low carbon, community-focused developments in suburban and regional Australia.
Several progressive suburban and regional developments with a genuine commitment to better design and sustainability outcomes are seeking mainstream appeal. In Victoria, the first house is now up at The Cape, a planned 219-dwelling development with a commitment to more than 50 per cent open space, which includes restored native habitat and walking tracks, and a minimum star rating of 7.5, on Victoria’s south east coast.
The all-electric development will include a 2.5 kilowatt solar system for each house, while several solar-powered electric vehicle station are planned for community use. Director Brendan Condon says householders will benefit from significant annual energy and water bill savings over the life of the home and comfort in all weather. “Our design process has reduced the premium normally paid for higher end sustainable homes to a very modest premium,” he says. “For instance, the display centre, which is a large double storey family home, cost under $400,000 to construct including energy systems, solar and all sustainability features.”
Meanwhile, construction at another pioneering Victorian development, Mullum Creek in east Melbourne, is set to begin. The project is being led by siblings Danny, Steven and Sue Mathews on 50 acres of former farmland and natural bushland, which they inherited from their parents, along with a vision for the long-term stewardship of the 20-hectare block.
All purchasers of the 56-house project must work within its rigorous design guidelines, which include a minimum 7.5 Star energy rating and the use of only carefully considered and approved materials. Purchasers are also encouraged to work with a preferred architect or designer. “There are design criteria, but a sustainable outcome is our priority,” explains Danny. “We are aiming to achieve this from the start: before we get anywhere we make sure that purchasers are on the same page – for instance we offer financial incentives to encourage sustainable building practices to try to make it easier for clients.”
The family is working with an appointed panel of experts to review house designs, to ensure the development meets strict environmental requirements. These include a three dimensional building envelope which protects solar access to each house. Nearly 50 per cent of the land will be transferred to Manningham Council as public parkland, and there are also vegetation requirements which ensure any landscaping includes a mix of locally sourced indigenous plants, food bearing plants and vegetable gardens. The council has already constructed a bike path and walking track along the land’s creek frontage.
In South Australia, the hugely successful Beyond Today development is now at stage 8, with 70 houses now built and plans for an onsite health services and an aquatic centre to localise services. Director Adam Wright says that while all houses rate at least 7 Stars, the project has taken a broader approach to minimising environmental impact. “There are some things that can be missed by the star system, so our guidelines are more prescribed; we go much further with the thermal attributes of the houses to make sure they perform,” he says. “People love how comfortable they are in winter and how low the bills are – if there’s any – these houses all perform incredibly well.” All new houses are also required to install a minimum 3 kilowatt solar system to maximise renewable energy production on the site.
Though taking place on undeveloped land, these projects share a commitment to habitat protection and creation, smart low-impact design and community, representing a clear shift away from the traditional developer maximum-profit model. “We could have sold it to a developer and probably made a lot of money, but the quality would be bad, so we thought we would do it ourselves and improve the outcomes,” says Danny, of the Mullum Creek development. “We want to show that there can be a commercial case for developing in this way and it doesn’t necessarily have to be more expensive, and that it can look really good. It’s about quality over quantity – the emphasis is on longevity and the ability for houses to change use, as well as liveability.”
There is broad agreement that influencing the mainstream is key to changing the way development happens. Adam Wright says that while ecovillages may not be mainstream just yet, things like the use of environmental design guidelines and well-designed roads in to allow for optimum orientation might just start to gain wider traction within new developments. He has found the best outcomes come from responding to genuine community demand. “We could have gone down the self-sufficient route, but you have to consider the market,” he says. “It’s about seeing how far you can go while achieving profitable, intelligent design.”
Currumbin ecovillage (right) in South East Queensland’s hinterland has been going strong for over 15 years, and is frequently held up as an example of new development done right, landing numerous awards including the World’s Best Environmental Development in 2008 by the UN representative International Real Estate Federation. This newly completed house on the site designed by Symbiosphere, was designed to the village’s strict environmental design guidelines which include: carefully considered passive solar design, fully integrated self-sufficient rainwater storage, grid-connected solar, significant use of recycled materials, no imported timbers and connection to surrounding the landscape. Around 200 people live at Currumbin.
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