Passive House in Abbotsford

It is often a rare opportunity to have a blank canvas as a site in Sydney’s inner suburbs, but one that presented itself in this case and was seized to re-imagine a truly sustainable house typology. A critical appraisal of the existing built environment led us to accept the immediate context as largely irrelevant so that the project addresses orientation, views and topography, a relationship with both land and water, a collection of interconnected spaces defined by beautiful details.

At the micro scale this house is the sum of its details – William Blake’s poetry reminds us ‘to see a world in a grain of sand’, to take notice of the small, the subtle, the unapparent. This house speaks through its details, materials, craft and colour. It invites occupants to touch and feel, to inhabit in both intimate and communal ways, pausing and perching, connecting to ground, water and sky.

Making use of the site’s natural topography the house is divided into a series of interlinked platforms, giving privacy without disconnection and celebrating the threshold condition, offering choice to family members to participate or retreat. Its focus is layers of relationships – house to site, room to room, occupants to building. Themes of materiality and expression of craft are carried through a series of furniture pieces commissioned specifically for the project.

At the macro scale, this is a house for all seasons, shaped by the particular conditions of the site so that it opens up to the north and east, capturing sun in winter and cooling breezes in summer. At the same time the house presents itself as a barrier to the south and west, keeping cold winds and excessive heat at bay. The outdoor spaces are framed by the L-shaped plan arrangement and therefore protected from the extremes of climate almost year-round so that they become integrated into the daily rituals of living.

Internally the house is only actively heated on the ground floor, making use of the stair as a solar chimney funnelling warm or cool air depending on the season. This is achieved through sound application of passive design integrated with low-tech mechanical devices designed by the architects. Externally the idea of climatic variability is expressed in elements such as the counter-weighted movable screen designed, made and installed by the architects in collaboration with our master carpenter.

Despite the confines of the site and the budget the clients embraced suggestions about customised environmental systems and bespoke details, a risk-taking attitude that has paid off both in performance and delight.

For the clients the house is both about family and familiarity, in their words ‘from the day we moved in it felt like we had always lived here.’

Sustainability Awards 2016 – Finalist