It can take a bit of convincing, says architect Raffaello Rosselli, but builders can be happy to work with unconventional and quirky ideas.
In his case, what he’s talking about involves re-using materials, specifically about 2000 second hand roof tiles that would otherwise have been discarded, in a beautiful rhythmic filigree bris-soleil on The Beehive, a small office building in Surry Hills which curves around paperbark Melaleuca street tree.
Initially, tradies thought he was crazy, says the 31-year-old who has just won a sustainable architecture award for The Beehive, which houses both his studio and that of his more well known architect father, Luigi.
- See our article NSW architecture awards stars sustainability and innovation
The idea of using old roof tiles, rescued from the demolition site of one of his father’s projects, was very different from what most builders are trained to do and it created some trepidation.
“Builders try to do everything perfectly and when dealing with natural or recycled materials that are imperfect, have to get over the hurdle of using a material not perfect in alignment.
“It’s talking about it and getting them familiar with it,” Rosselli says.
Indeed, he agrees, a good comparison might be the imperfect fruit in Harris farm shops becoming familiar.
“It’s about changing the perception of beauty and value in materials. (With the fruit) once you’ve had it, you continue buying it. It has a character. The nice thing with recycled materials is that they have more value at times than a newer product. They are unique and everyone wants the unique these days.”
To prove his point, with a previous project – the restoration of a small building at the back of a house in Redfern, which looks like a rusty tin shed – neighbours again thought the project was crazy, but a year later it achieved the suburb’s highest real estate price which fortified his beliefs that architects “don’t have to listen to real estate agents about Caesarstone and so on”.
Rosselli says it would be great if at a local level, architects or builders could be connected with projects slated for demolition to stop waste going to landfill.
Re-use achieved with this kind of planning is preferable to recycling, which can see tiles crushed down into aggregate and down cycled, he says.
Also the more handling there is, the more environmental and other costs there are.
Architects, Rosselli says, can challenge people.
“[People] can ask ‘why are you using old stuff?’ The market liked it with the tin shed house. Architects have to acknowledge that as designers they can change perceptions and the value of a precinct with a nice building that activates the area and values materials. It empowers the architect.”
The Beehive, he says, despite having a sense of history, is still contemporary capital A architecture and is very much modernist but not in the sense of sterile white boxes.
“This generation is conscious of history and values a building that changes with time instead of fighting time. It’s about respect of the old and new and juxtaposing old and new.”
While the environmental value of the tile re-use is, of course, the re-use, the bris-soleil also achieves other environmental benefits.
The site was small and its main eight-metre façade faces west.
Rosselli wanted as much light as possible, but the low western sun can “wreak havoc” in terms of glare and heat loading.
The terracotta’s thermal mass has an evaporative quality. In the hot sun, it’s cool to the touch and filters through cool air and light, like a diaphragm that can breathe.
It means that the occupants don’t need airconditioning. They’re also not using blinds and though limited in windows don’t need artificial lighting until after dark.
Rosselli hopes that his experimental reuse of overlooked terracotta tiles, will be a role model for other lateral thinking. The building industry has seen great progress in reducing a building’s occupational energy impact through passive design and new technologies, but reducing embodied energy is often neglected in the design process.
“This was a conscious attempt to re-contextualise the value of reusing materials, showing clients and the wider public that it is possible to reuse the waste products of the construction process, with all their intrinsic beauty, from façade design to the displaying of books,” Rosselli says.