We don’t need to choose between urban infill and greenspace, says The Forever Project’s Chris Ferreira.
Although, to avoid chopping down trees to make way for increased density, the director of the Western Australian-based cross disciplinary sustainable design company says we need to “unshackle” ourselves from two enduring beliefs: That our homes must be enormous, and that they must have space for several cars.
“We need to decouple from the idea that we need to build big houses,” Ferreira urged.
At a 240 square metre average, Australian homes are the biggest in the world – even bigger than the US – and 3-4 times bigger than the majority of European and Asian homes, which tend to hover around 60-80 square metres.
The problem is there’s “lots of incentive to build big houses.”
Ferreira says developers make more money out of large homes and builders like big houses because these jobs employ more people. Real estate agents have bought into this rhetoric and so has the buyer, with the result being, “a big disparity between what people need and what they think they need”.
“We are saturated with marketing that says you need to build a big house.”
When the standard home is four bedrooms, that leaves empty nesters, “rattling around in enormous houses”. Not only is it a waste of natural resources, but homebuyers also pay the price: bigger homes equal bigger mortgages, with homeowners footing the bill for “ghost rooms” that no one lives in.
When exacerbated by shrinking family units, Ferreira thinks sprawling homes will “increasingly become stranded assets”.
And do we really need double garages?
Anyone would think cars, not humans, were the dominant species given the amount of space we allocate to them, Ferreira jokes.
As with smaller footprint homes, removing onsite car parking leaves more room for greenspace on an infill site.
The debunking of these two myths is central to Ferreira’s “inspired infill” development model that promotes shared garden space to the centre stage.
“The garden should be the biggest room of your home.”
Last week he secured final approval for a prototype project on his own block in Hamilton Hill in Perth’s southwest that will see two small footprint eco apartments built on the site.
By building small and keeping cars offsite, Ferreira’s family and the new residents will be able to share 40 trees as well as veggie gardens, chooks, barbeque facilities, a fire pit and native gardens.
Ferreira says his infill development model is not only the “right thing to do” but also financially viable. “Trees and gardens become an asset and a selling feature… you can make money off this.”
He says he’s already attracted one off-the-plan buyer, a 60-year-old woman that he says saw the place as “a safe, secure and nourishing space to live.”
The building designer behind the project, Ecotecture’s Matt Wallwork, says the four-lot development will orbit around a “mini park” in its centre.
There was no way Ferreira was going to let go of the 70-year-old jacaranda tree in the middle of the site to accommodate the apartments.
“A lot of developers would knock that down to find space for buildings.”
A zoning change opened the door to a higher density infill project on the 1820 square metre site that already had a house, granny flat and shed-turned-workspace that Wallwork and Ferreira share.
The apartments will be built to the Passive House standard, which is likely a first for a Perth apartment, with rooftop solar form Ferreira’s roof to be shared across all dwellings. Solar wasn’t feasible on the apartments due to shading from the jacaranda tree. The apartments will also have greywater recycling.
Wallwork was pleased that the council, the City of Cockburn, approved offsite parking for the development. Residents have designated bays offsite but will walk 20-30 metres to their homes.
The timber framed apartments will also be built using second-hand timber sourced from Earthcare Recycling, a company that recycles builders’ waste by setting up an onsite system for at-source waste separation.
The concrete used in the build will be made from a recycled rubble concrete and the council-owned crossover made from recycled rubble brick that’s compacted and wedged between concrete boards.
Small but sufficient
The two apartments are 55sqm (two bedrooms) and 45sqm (single bedroom). While small, Wallwork notes they will have around 100sqm of common garden space to enjoy as well as their own private courtyards.
While the basic ingredients of the “inspired infill” methodology is small footprint, car-lite infill development, Wallwork says common space is also important. In copycat developments, he imagines communal facilities such as entertaining spaces that residents can book.
“It’s a good model for keeping things small and it’s a better use of resources all round.”
A bigger garden, smaller home is better for you
Ferreira says a bigger garden, smaller home should be seen as an “investment in your health” with studies showing that children that grow up without access to greenery are more likely to be inactive and overweight. He also says gardens double as an airconditioner as they keep buildings cooler in summer, helping to slash power bills.
More urban greenspace promotes biodiversity, keeps more plants in the ground to draw down carbon and also reduces pressure on stormwater infrastructure