Down by the billabong

Issue 29 Words: Anna Cumming Photography: Julian Rutt
St Peters, Adelaide SA
  • To minimise maintenance, Julian chose fibre cement board and corrugated Colorbond for the external cladding.
  • A built-in bookcase doubles as a secret door into the cellar. Cool air is drawn to the fridge cavity and pantry from tubes which run through the cellar.
  • Concertina doors between the dining and living areas in his home help with thermal and sound insulation, and allow the family of four more flexibility in using this single living space.
  • Julian’s fascination with natural light inspired this striking glass roof above the en suite shower.

Careful space planning and a host of integrated sustainable design features make this pair of understated Adelaide homes a quiet example of increased urban density done well.

On a leafy street in suburban Adelaide, just a block from Saint Peters Billabong on the River Torrens, a pair of undeniably different facades sit comfortably among the sandstone Federation villas and stucco-rendered bungalows. Designed by sustainable architect Julian Rutt for his family and for his brother-in-law, the Billabong Houses are compact and minimalist high performers. “I wanted to test out multiple sustainable design theories while I had the chance to be both client and architect,” explains Julian. He set out to make the homes largely self-sufficient for water and energy, while careful passive thermal design ensures they’re comfortable to live in with minimal active heating and cooling, even in Adelaide’s summer heatwaves.

In order to minimise building materials required and maintain good-sized outdoor areas despite the subdivided block and increased density, efficient space planning was key. “That meant small bedrooms and no doubling-up of living spaces,” says Julian. Downstairs in his home, two very compact kids’ bedrooms, a laundry and a bathroom cluster to the south. The rest of the ground floor is given over to a kitchen and single living area, with large windows overlooking the garden and sliding doors giving access to a shady deck.

A second storey contains a tiny study, equally small spare room, main bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and bathroom. This partial two-storey design reduces the home’s overall footprint, while the decision to build the upper storey into a pitched roof helps it blend in with the character of the street, avoids overshadowing neighbours and reduces the internal air volume to be heated or cooled. A large cut-out from the dining area into the upstairs corridor, together with openable skylights, creates a thermal chimney allowing efficient night purging of warm air in summer.

While there is an evaporative cooling system and gas powered hydronic heating, Julian says they don’t need to use them often. In winter, one of his experimental creations helps heat the living space: a mini conservatory on the north-west wall captures afternoon sun and thick internal doors can be opened to admit the warmed air. It’s useful for growing tomatoes in the cooler months too. Julian is also happy with the result of another experiment, a set of pipes set into the slab to draw cool air from the cellar into the pantry and behind the fridge. “It not only works well, the kids think it’s great when I make roaring sounds through the tubes!

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Cover of Issue 29
You can read more about Down by the billabong in Issue 29 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Julian Rutt


Ikon Projects


Dual new build


St Peters, Adelaide SA


approx $550,000 per house


Each house 210 sqm

each site approx 500 sqm


7.5 Stars

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