What are the guiding principles that we are using to help us make decisions as we create the design, build the home and then live there? Here are our thoughts:
Work with what is already there. We want to be sensitive to the existing environment and topography. For example, use the sloping block to our advantage when considering how to place the three homes. How can the gradient be integrated into the design to become a useful feature rather than a construction obstacle? Another example is to find ways to save the existing plants (including established fruit trees) so that we benefit from having them on the property. David is considering onsite milling of the dead gum tree to produce timber which could be used for landscaping or for creating an indoor timber feature.
Use sustainable building materials in the construction. What are the options? Can we use less building materials than in traditional designs? What materials can we recover from the existing home and use for the new units and in the landscaping? How can we maximise the use of locally sourced materials?
Create a sense of community within the 3 units. Aim to create a place where people want to live because they feel a connection to other residents. Provide shared spaces to encourage connections between the three groups of residents. What resources or spaces can be shared to reduce the resource demand? Can we expand the sense of community to include native fauna (encouraged to share this space with us)?
Landscaping is integral to the design, not added later. As the building design takes shape, work in parallel on the landscaping to ensure the garden complements and enhances the home. How can we use plants to assist with functions in the house (eg shading, rainwater gardens, screening, grey water treatment)? How can we use landscaping to create appealing views from the windows in the house? What would we like to see when we look outside so that the internal and external blend together?
Respect planning codes. For the house design, push the design and construction envelope but be careful not to stray into contentious areas that might delay the schedule through lengthy reviews & approvals. Meet (or exceed) landscape overlay requirements.
Minimise resource consumption when the units are occupied. How can we use sustainable living principles to create a home which has an inherently low demand for electricity, gas and water? What are the optimum methods for obtaining those resources (eg solar panels for electricity, rain water for some services)? What services do we need for the house (eg will some form of cooling in hot weather actually be required)?
Include ways to easily reuse or recycle materials generated by living in the house. How can we use materials made by living in the house as a resource, not a waste stream? What facilities can be included in the design to make it easy and convenient to divert those streams into something useful (eg composting food scraps, treated grey water to use on the garden or to flush toilets)?
Low maintenance. Given that our units are designed for older people who are downsizing, the maintenance requirement should reflect that. As Howard said, “The thought of spending hours every year oiling a large expanse of decking doesn’t appeal to me as much as it might have when I was younger and fitter.” That’s not to say that there won’t be things to do around the house and garden. However, thought will go into avoiding features which rely on a significant workload on the occupants (or cost with regularly getting somebody in to do the maintenance).