Australia is getting hotter all the time, thanks in no small part to climate change. A searing “code red” heatwave hit the country in January 2019, melting roads and breaking records with temperatures up to 16° Celsius (60.8° Fahrenheit) above average — and these conditions aren’t expected to abate anytime soon. As Australians grapple with the possibility of a sun-scorched future, many aspects of their cities and architecture will have to adjust to a new normal.
While high-tech solutions like sophisticated thermal control systems will go a long way toward helping Australians weather these changes, architects can also learn from simpler techniques that have already been in use for centuries, like natural ventilation, sun screens, and thermal mass.
“Waverly House” in Sydney offers a beautiful example of just how effective these simple solutions can be. Designed by Anderson Architecture, this contemporary residence utilizes a range of clever tricks to keep cool, make the most of a small plot of land, and avoid towering over its neighbors all at the same time.
“Optimal climate control can make any home a haven,” explain the architects. “With one half of the client couple hailing from the UK, our brief for a new house was clear. They wanted a light-filled, comfortable family home, with easy access to the great Aussie backyard and thermal performance that would minimize reliance on artificial heating and cooling year round. Thermal modeling proved our combination of passive and active design measures could achieve an eight-star performance rating. And all of this in a two-story residence whose living zone would need to face the hot afternoon sun.”
A bulky neighbor to the north blocked light to the building site, so the architects designed a light-seeking two-story form with a terrace on the shaded side and a double-height living room on the sunnier end. The large window within this void might allow too much heat into the home if not for a set of smart louvered shades that sense the temperature outside and adjust themselves automatically, screening the room when needed or allowing more light in at cooler times. A slanted, folding roof on the south side of the house gives the living area a cozy feel and helps illuminate the opposite neighbor’s home.
The upper-level terrace is a breezy indoor/outdoor space with a handy shape-shifting trick of its own. A moving roof rolls out to cover it in the event of rain or harsh sunlight, and the best part is it can be deployed via smartphone. The glazing in the lower-level living room can also be opened entirely to the outdoors when conditions allow.
The architects add: “Thermally broken, low-e windows were a cost-effective eco-friendly architecture measure for high thermal performance throughout the home, and air quality was considered, too, with low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) finishes throughout. Solar-powered, hydronic, underfloor heating adds extra warmth to this home’s hub in winter but, in reality, this is rarely needed.”
“The concrete floor’s thermal mass, combined with the building’s reverse brick veneer construction means indoor temperatures remain stable in all but the most extreme of weather conditions, even without eaves or overhangs.”
Waverley House proves that heat-resistant homes don’t have to have thick, ungainly walls, low profiles, and small windows to be comfortable in the Australian summer. Retaining its connection to its beautiful surroundings, this home radiates optimism and a willingness to adapt.