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House design and house plans

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

As an invited panel member of THE LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE in Adelaide last year I presented the following contribution to a discussion on house design and house plans.


  1. CLIENT BRIEF/LIASON a. Listen b. Question c. Who are your clients - what they believe and how do they like to live d. Establish the accommodation e. Establish a budget f. Begin the process of constant feedback

  2. ORIENTATION a. The core of the design process

  3. SHAPE OF THE LAND AND TOPOGRAPHY OF THE SITE a. Shape of land in relation to north determines plan form b. Topography assists in vertical distribution of spaces

  4. NEIGHBOURS AND STREET CONNECTION a. Proximity of existing buildings and use of adjoining spaces b. How does the building address the street c. Vehicle entry and garage location

  5. ADJOINING NATURAL FEATURES a. Views b. Water courses c. Rocks d. Wind direction/s e. Trees f. Nature of the soil

  6. PLAN LAYOUT a. Zoning b. Single loaded corridors c. Cross ventilation d. Elements of surprise e. Efficiency rather than size f. Courtyards for indoor/outdoor connections g. External space needs to be planned too

  7. BUILDING FORM a. Visual separation of walls and roof b. Juxtaposition of elements expressed by change of material/colour stimulated by the site and its environs

  8. LIVING SPACES a. The priority in the design because people spend most of their time here and most of the energy is expended here b. Large areas of glass to the north c. Double glazing in commercial grade frames d. Thermal mass exposed in floors e. Supplementary use of thermal mass in walls f. Sloping ceilings to assist in evacuating hot air in summer g. High level, outward opening hopper windows to expel hot air h. Low level south facing windows to capture prevailing breezes i. Extensive overhangs to northern windows to control ingress of sun in summer and winter j. Light, airy spaces with external views and internal interest k. Supplementary lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation

  9. CONSTRUCTION a. EXTERNAL WALLS i. thermal mass internally but not externally ii. Durability and low maintenance iii. aesthetics b. ROOF i. Metal or highly insulating (sod roof) ii. Location of P.V’s predominately north facing c. INSULATION i. Under the roof ii. Above ceilings iii. In all walls iv. Exposed underfloor areas d. SEALING THE BUILDING i. Wrap the building with a taped membrane such as THERMALBRANE ii. Seal around all windows and doors iii. Minimise ceiling downlights e. MATERIALS i. Discriminate from what is available on the market ii. A limited broad palette creates visual interest iii. Respect client preferences

In all else, the clients are the occupants who will be paying for, and hopefully enjoying the spaces for many years, and therefore I think it is important to put away the ego that might be striving to win design awards, in preference to respecting clients wishes, if they differ from your own.

ALEXANDER – Pattern Language, influences my thinking on every project.


What makes one believe they are not beautiful and engaging?

For me the beauty and engagement comes from interaction with the environment and the climate of the region – the form and beauty is the result.

Underlying the statement that suggests that high performing buildings are not beautiful and engaging is public opinion based on the present built environment. This public opinion is ill informed and uneducated with respect to this subject.

My opinion, after nearly fifty years of professional practice is that over 90% of all residential building in Australia is inappropriate, poorly designed and ugly.

How do we define ugliness and beauty as it relates to building? Is it in the eye of the beholder or is there underlying principles that guide our opinion. (Alain de Botton – The Architecture of Happiness)

He argued that “taste” or architectural opinion only came into being in the 16th Century when an English noble decided to build a manor house different from what had come before. Before that there was no basis on which to make a judgement because every building followed the same patterns and traditions.

So whose opinions carry more weight?

We need to change people’s opinions by educating them in the better principles of sustainable architecture so they can have a different reference point from which to judge, rather than accept the uninformed opinions of builders, developers, real-estate agents, etc., who have little or no formal training in design. Surely those with professional learning in design have more credibility than the average jo-blow in the street.

I am currently writing a paper with two of my colleagues addressing this very issue, which we will be taking to politicians with the aim of creating change.

I believe all of us with the same views on the value of sustainable architecture should make their feelings known wherever and whenever they are able. In the absence of a strong voice the status quo will prevail.

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