Lessons learnt

Five years ago we featured a house in the Currumbin Ecovillage on the Gold Coast that was designed using three pavilions to accommodate two households in a co-housing arrangement. How is their experiment evolving? We revisit to find out.

Slow architecture is what architect couple Peter McArdle and Teresa Wuersching are all about, where the evolutionary development of creating a home is like the slow simmering of a home-cooked meal. Just like the approach they’ve used in their own home, they encourage their clients to create a master plan for what their needs will be now and in future – a staged process they find enables a more appropriate response to site and allows time to gather and incorporate secondhand materials.

Since their home was featured in Sanctuary 31, Peter and Teresa have enriched the connected pavilion design by adding an infill of spaces, shelter and landscaping to meet the needs of their growing family. The structure comprises three pavilions skewed on site to face north. The northernmost “tiny house” – prefabricated to their design – was built first and currently accommodates their architecture studio and family bathroom. The middle pavilion houses the family’s living and bedroom spaces and is linked to the southern granny flat (rented to long-term tenants) by a recently built kitchen. The established garden provides a range of outdoor spaces between the buildings and boundaries. As the two households currently accommodate seven people, three of whom work from home, these private pockets are extremely valuable.

The cohousing-inspired master plan allows flexibility of living over time, reduces the building footprint by sharing some spaces and allows for shared living costs. Peter and Teresa incorporate this template as a default in their residential projects wherever possible to “make smaller spaces work doubly hard … building less is the first step in a sustainable approach.” In their own home, “with the granny flat, the social connection has been really successful and in particular it’s been great for the kids to be exposed to other people,” says Teresa. The new, generous and airy kitchen space offers greater opportunities for shared living when it suits. Sticking to their philosophy of repurposing wherever possible, the floor is of rustic recycled timber, and the kitchen benches are a couple of commercial kitchen units with a sink added and drawers repurposed from the previous kitchen. Teresa jokes that the kitchen fitout cost less than a new Thermomix.

The household is comprised of three main pavilions. A studio was built in 2012, the main family wing followed in 2013 and the secondary dwelling 2014/15 – thanks to the original master plan, they are all facing north. A new outdoor dining setting of repurposed concrete elements sits to the west of the kitchen link between the granny flat and main residence. While the ecovillage’s design code dictates “no slab on ground” to avoid cut and fill, the house has achieved connection with the ground thanks to considered landscaping – so successfully in fact that they have had issues with wildlife, particularly snakes, entering. Consequently, screened openings were essential, with screen doors later upgraded to Crimsafe mesh for resilience around boisterous children.

A roof was added over the small deck linking the front pavilion to the main wing, providing just enough shelter for two chairs and a walkway during rain, leaving the remainder open to the night sky. A bank of secondhand doors forms adjustable shutters behind the chairs to control privacy and protect against bad weather, and a sliding recycled timber sunscreen has been added to the eastern doors of the studio. At some point, Teresa and Peter hope to claim the front pavilion as their own private bedroom but for now they are happy to use it to work from home. They like the efficiency of using the whole house for the whole day rather than leaving it empty while working elsewhere, and it makes it easier to work flexible hours around family time.

In the main wing, a bedroom loft has been built for their son over the playroom. They regret not having made the roof 300mm higher in anticipation – it’s hard to think of everything! Doors will be added to the two bedrooms and between the dining and kitchen for acoustic control, and the bathroom will eventually be fully fitted out (currently only the toilet and basins are installed). To improve summer comfort, fanlights over the north-facing doors will provide airflow during rain and footings to the western end of the bedrooms await a sheltered deck to open the bedrooms to the Mt Coogal view.

The link between the main pavilion and the house has small steps to provide sitting perches; between the studio and main pavilion a small polycarb roof is large enough to protect the chairs and the path between the buildings. A recycled timber sliding screen has been added to the east side of the studio for sun control and the secondhand glazed doors offer weather control to the west. Gaps in the decking off the playroom (top right) allow the doors to be bolted in various positions to optimise breezes, privacy and sun/shade.

The reprofiling of the boggy site with berms, a rocky creek bed and ponds has been successful in redirecting and capturing stormwater and stacked concrete roof tiles have proven a flexible and enjoyable way to reconfigure garden spaces as needed.

Everything they do is thought through and discussed at length. “I figure it’s an architect thing that we tinker and are constantly evolving,” says Peter. Their experimenting with ideas and materials in their own home so that they can advise clients with confidence is good business practice and has resulted in a house and landscape that they love.

Further reading
Design workshop: A better beach shack

Design workshop: A better beach shack

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Back to basics

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Good design need not be expensive – as architect Andrew Kerr demonstrates with his Tassie ‘apple crate shack’ built to 7.1 Stars on a $100k budget.

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Design workshop: Wetland retreat

Design workshop: Wetland retreat

Kane and Cherie Morley are planning to owner-build their long-awaited strawbale home with wetland views south of Perth. Local sustainability specialists Sid Thoo and Alex Raynes-Goldie help them fine-tune their design.

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