The brief we began with was for a solar-passive house in inner-city Canberra that looked like it had always been there and belonged. Spatially, Dorothy was after a two-bedroom home with a central kitchen, dining and living area. This allowed for friends’ and colleagues’ visits to be multifaceted, with the use of communal areas and also private, study spaces.
In terms of materials, our joint philosophy called for sustainable materials with low maintenance. The house is double-brick cavity (using Canberra Reds) with interior brick walls and composite windows out of aluminium and timber with uncluttered and clean detailing.
The grounds are entirely water-harvested (fed also by greywater), and there is a solar hot water system and rainwater tanks.
We began weekly and fortnightly meetings to work through the process of design. Dorothy’s inspiration came from Frank Lloyd Wright and a use of timber detailing. As the block is angled northwest, we had to do spatial planning and create a stepped geometry, like a variegated leaf to allow the northern sun access in winter and eliminate summer sun. The spatial relationship planning was also needed in order to fit all of the rooms and activities required.
Once the survey was complete, we reviewed the structural requirements of the site, local authorities’ design and siting requirements and site potential for water-harvesting. This lead to a floor plan that, once the geometry was applied, captured all of Dorothy’s requirements from a planning and site perspective.
Turner ACT, Australia
MBA Sustainable House of The Year
Dorothy Broom, Owner & Occupant:
“For several months after I bought the block where I planned to build, I researched and auditioned architects and designers. One after another, they showed that they couldn’t meet one or more of my essential criteria: environmental expertise, interest in building for my ageing-in-place, ideas for a house that would be sympathetic with its old-inner street scape, a portfolio of aesthetically appealing work, and a capacity to listen carefully and respect the client. Just when I was ready to give up and take my own rough plans to a drafting firm, a friend recommended I talk to Paul Barnett. Reluctantly I did so, assuming it’d be more of the same. But I knew – on the strength of that brief first conversation – that Paul would design my new home. I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy the process.
The experience was a delight from the beginning: fun and funny, full of ingenious assignments for me and endlessly imaginative responses from Paul. It was a process of self-discovery as well as creativity. Paul was unfailingly professional, scrupulous to explain exactly what PBDG would do and how much it would cost, breaking the project into coherent components, and never assuming that he had the commission for the next step just because he had done the previous one/s.
His extensive network of top-notch craftspeople and engagement of a builder with high expectations of his sub-contractors all contributed to the grace and solidity of the house.
For most of the last decade, I have wakened each day grateful to live in a beautiful house that serves my needs for privacy and independence, even as it lets me offer hospitality to family and friends who come to stay and to groups who gather occasionally. It was an ideal setting in which to recover from major orthopaedic surgery, and I am confident it will once again be a supportive environment if I live to become frail.”