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Case Study: the Coolth.inc Philosophy

WORDS BY Phil Edwards

Commercial and residential designers have a unique opportunity to drive a generation of home builders to overhaul their material expectations, creating buildings with not just reduced environmental impact but which can avoid adverse impact altogether. A number of principles will assist in achieving an adaptive reuse philosophy. The first is to reuse materials and infrastructure on site. At the waste end of the cycle most material leaving the site should be transported to recycling facilities so that very little material goes to landfill. Designers should ensure material specification seeks recycled content in new building forms. Another principle is to use planting in combination with more conventional materials to help regulate temperatures, treat rainwater and increase the amenity of outdoor spaces such as rooftops.

In my own experience designing and building a 7.5 star renovation in Cremorne Victoria, we explored adaptive reuse at every turn. The demolition began with sorting all materials for disposal to recycling facilities. We retained a portion of the existing cottage with minimal modification, reused our five year-old kitchen and robes and harvested all reusable timber. Oregon beams found in the lean-to of the old house were up-cycled to a dining table top.

Then the task of sustainable material procurement began. For the slab we used a green concrete mix with additional reclaimed aggregate and with slag reclaimed from the iron ore smelting process. For the interior fit out we sourced sustainable insulation and plaster. Insulation made from recycled glass was easy to procure and much safer to install than traditional glasswool. Plasterboard was another challenge. Many products offered recycled content however were only available in 13 mm commercial boards, not 10 mm domestic boards.

Passive sustainability features built into the 7.5 star green home. All cooling is dependent on cross ventilation with exhaust from a thermal chimney on the north facade, assisted by solar gain at the top. Shade trees and a shroud of vegetation blankets the horizontal and vertical external surfaces to shade the thermal mass of the building. Designed by MC2 Architects and Coolth.inc Living Architecture.

Image: Phil Edwards.

A tree stump and reused chairs make for a casual family gathering space. The green roof is valuable addition to the back yard on a small inner city block, effectively building land at less than 20% of the cost of land at ground level. Designed by MC2 Architects and Coolth.inc Living Architecture.

Photographer: Phil Edwards.

Utilising the roof space borrows the surrounding landscape including the city skyline and moments of beautiful sky. The selection of green roof species provide seasonal delight and an abundance of cover whilst defending against the harsh victorian summer. Designed by Coolth.inc Living Architecture and Claire Farrell University of Melbourne.

Image by Phil Edwards.

Our most extreme reuse occurred in the garden. We used scoria rock base that had been used previously in a research project to create a green roof. Although the rock was not sterile and potentially hydrophobic, our reuse philosophy outweighed these concerns.

Runoff from our site occurs less than 12 days a year, mimicking pre development conditions. The rainwater is reused more than once, passing through our roof garden, then ground level raingardens and ultimately rainwater tank. The tank doubles as a summer plunge pool and holding tank for irrigation and toilet flushing in winter. In this landscape water is the integrating element that is used more than once as a principle.

By building roof gardens, the amount of open space on a given property is substantially increased, which translates to increased property values. The reuse of existing buildings to create unique inner city lifestyles with outdoor functions that compare with those available in a suburban lot becomes a significantly better proposition than building new homes on the fringe.

Adaptive reuse is a key principle in the way we have developed the Coolth.inc philosophy on design through innovation and sustainability. It is clear that we need to be smarter about embodied energy and reduce the impact of our built environment on the local and global climate. By setting key principles for reuse of existing buildings, creative outcomes are no less achievable and certainly more beneficial for this generation and the next. We can all do more to reimagine material selection and turn to adaptive reuse first on every project.