Biophilia SlateHouse

A Melbourne home that’s gone heavy on the biophilic features and bucked the trend on dark roofing has won a suite of awards at Building Design Awards, including the Best Environmentally Sustainable award.

Designed by architects Melbourne Design Studios, the Biophilia Slate House in Northcote invites a close connection with its natural surrounds and vegetation, despite its inner suburban location.

Compared to a site in the countryside, the location posed a challenge to the all-natural brief. Fortunately, the team were able to make strategic use of the neighbouring park to create an immersive experience with nature.

With two internal courtyards and views of the outdoors wherever possible – including a master bedroom that looks out over the park canopy – architect on the project Marc Bernstein says the idea was to feel immersed in the landscape, from the front door to the back yard.

This layout created building envelope challenges, but Bernstein says this was resolved with extra insulation and other innovative techniques.

The designers opted for an 8.5 KW solar panel array that’s integrated into the roof because it’s a more palatable look for the consumer than when solar is treated as an “add on feature.”

“Pushing the barrel of environmental sustainable design and trying to make it more mainstream is what gets me out of bed each day,” Bernstein says.

“I strongly believe residential construction in Australia still has a lot to catch up on in this regard.”

The design also features green roofs and integrated planters that encourage biodiversity, mitigate the heat island affect, and help slow stormwater runoff. Some of the planters have been strategically placed to act as a shading screen once the foliage is fully grown, Bernstein says.

The house is built from natural materials, including sustainable timber and slate stone. Recycled bricks are also used, as are some new bricks and concrete for the floor.

A black roof needn’t be unsustainable

Bernstein says building a dark-roofed house in Australia went against the grain, but that the design demonstrates that sustainable outcomes can be achieved in various ways.

It relies on a slab cooling system that’s common overseas and in commercial applications but is “fairly novel” in Australian homes.

The system was selected for its suitability to the Victorian climate, where its standard for around 75 per cent of energy to be used for heating and 25 per cent for cooling.

“So when we designed the building, we said ‘let’s start with 75 per cent’ and that meant maximising solar heat gain.”

This was one reason charcoal-coloured slate was chosen, because the dark colour maximises heat.

This left only cooling to deal with, which only happens in summer when the rooftop solar is generating a lot of energy.

There’s no battery but the excess solar is used to run the heat pump that cools the slab to keep the interior at a pleasant temperature in summer. Any excess goes to the pool, he says.

“That’s the basic strategy.”

The house also won the Residential Design – New House $1M-$3M award, the Excellence in the use of Masonry award and the Past Presidents Prize at the Building Designers Association of Victoria’s annual Building Design Awards, which were held in Melbourne on 27 July 2019.

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  1. I’m sorry. Did I miss something? This ‘sustainable house’ has a swimming pool????? In Melbourne? Where you can only swim a few times a year??

    What’s sustainable about that? This is the kind of green wash that makes our industry a joke. This is the kind of thing that really makes the average Aussie believe that ‘sustainability’ is just virtual signalling by inner city elites. How can it be justified. I love every other aspect of this project, but the elephant in the pool just makes it lose all credibility