Riad Dreaming

Issue 28 Words: Verity Campbell Photography: Fiona Morrison
Darwin metro
  • Each room is passively cooled with openings on at least three sides.
    Pitched ceilings, high venting windows and ceiling fans maximise air flow and prevent heat hovering over sleeping spaces.
  • Limited and low VOC finishes were used throughout to maintain materials natural ascetic, such as the salvaged red Tiwi floorboards.
  • Covered open-air veradahs with wide overhangs offer shaded outdoor/indoor living spaces.

Outside and inside blur in this elevated home in the Top End which nods to Marrakesh and Bali for authentic (and low-energy) tropical living.

After a visit to Marrakesh, staying in a riad where rooms ring an inner courtyard, the Strohmayr family decided to bring a little piece of Morocco to inner city Darwin. Ideas for their family home had been tossed around for years, but after Marrakesh they finally had a core design concept: “a tropical riad – where the pool would be central to the living quarters”.

Their brief also included the need to reinvigorate their much-loved 1950s home, to increase its size, and to make the most of a tropical indoor-outdoor lifestyle, with no air-conditioning. The couple enlisted Troppo Architects, Top End specialists in sustainable tropical homes.

The decision to keep the home made good sense – not only from a sustainability point of view, says Sally Strohmayr – but also from an architectural heritage point of view. “We have preserved a building pretty much in its original state. Good design is timeless.”

But unfortunately this is a rare occurrence. “There’s a strong push in Darwin to knock down and rebuild,” says Jo Best, architect at Troppo. “But elevated, lightweight tropical homes like this are tough – they’re Tracey survivors! From a design point of view they’re great too: they’re flexible, they cross-ventilate well, and because they’re elevated you can build underneath without losing your garden. Why would you want to get rid of all that?”

For the team at Troppo this home provided an opportunity to test their skills in a different context. “This is a passively designed home right in the middle of suburbia,” says Jo. “People often think you have to be living on a bush block to have a passive house in the Top End. This home shows that passive design principles can go hand in hand with urban development.”

The renewed home and addition includes a new kitchen, spare office and bedroom, separate parents’ bedroom with ensuite and a new shed. The design features timber, pitched roofs, exposed beams, steel, angles, glazing – and “grand and vast spaces,” adds Sally.

According to Jo, most hardwoods used in the Darwin building industry are sourced from Indonesia due to the prohibitively expensive transit costs of timber from down south. Although locally sourced, the timber used for this project, ‘Tiwi Red’, (a mixture of Darwin stringybark, ironwood and bloodwood), is the unfortunate by-product of a collapsed national scheme where landholders were encouraged to plant timber plantations for rental payments.

After clearing swathes of old-growth forest on the Tiwi Islands for the plantation forests, the administering company, Great Southern, went bust. To save the hardwoods from being burnt, the last salvageable timbers from the Islands were shipped to Darwin. Troppo sourced them for the roof structure, slat screening, slat doors and walls, joists and flooring of this home.

To eliminate the need for air- conditioning the architects have designed the home to make the most of natural ventilation, blurring the line between indoor and out. Structures massed around the pool encourage passive evaporative cooling during the dry season. Layered roofs minimise radiant heat. High-level louvres vent hot air. Extensive louvres encourage air flow, with timber louvres to block heat gain.

Despite these effective and practical design strategies, ‘no air-con’ homes are discouraged in the Top End. “Energy efficiency standards in the NT make certain assumptions about thermal comfort based on down-south models,” adds Jo. “In warmer climates the standards assume you’ll have air-con. So if your house has been designed to be passively cooled, it’s deemed leaky and inefficient.” The architects had to go through an arduous process to ensure this home received its permit, including enlisting a building board review panel (from Queensland) for the project, adding to costs and timeframes. But it has been worth it.

“So many people love visiting Bali and the open villas where living is centred around the pool and garden – yet they don’t think they could live like that in Darwin,” comments Sally. “Our climate is suited to living outdoors all year around. Our new home feels like we’re living in a tropical resort every day.”

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Cover of Issue 28
You can read more about Riad Dreaming in Issue 28 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Troppo Architects

Anderson Peters Building

Alterations & Additions 


$670,000 (inc. professional fees)

House 340 sqm (inc. verandahs which make up 195 sqm)
Land 1248 sqm

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