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Project Overview

Year : 2016-2018
Type : Residential – Knockdown/Rebuild Family Home
Size : Approx. 300sqm

Biophilia – Slate House Northcote is a high-tech eco home for a family of five that connects with nature, to benefit the residents’ health and well-being. The pitched slate form, reminiscent of the traditional vernacular, combines with contemporary minimalist detailing, bridging past and present : A re-think of the suburban house.

Nature, craftsmanship and environmental sustainability are key to the success of this design. The strong vernacular form upstairs, created by traditional slate cladding, ties the house into the streetscape.

Project Brief

We designed this house for our clients, a family with 3 young children. Our clients loved the block, its north-facing aspect to the garden, and the beauty of the adjacent parkland beyond the north garden. We had worked for this client previously, and so we were very happy when they came back to engage us for this project.

Broadly speaking, the briefing asked for a contemporary but inviting family home, that would celebrate contemporary design while respecting the neighbourhood and integrating well into the streetscape. The house was to fully engage with a holistically integrated sustainable design approach.

In more detail then, the briefing became about creating connections and good flow of spaces, while delivering healthy and sustainable living. We had long discussions on these subjects with our clients, and we talked about connections, and healthy and sustainable living, all pointing towards Biophilic design, and how a deep connection with nature such as that has been shown to benefit occupants’ health and well-being, including stress-reduction, and improving cognitive function. WIth that, we were set to embark on the design journey.

Design Response

The reality of the setting however meant we were dealing with typical inner-suburban streetscapes and associated challenges like the contradictions of connections vs screening. This is in stark contrast to your typical biophilic design, say in a country property setting, where connecting with nature would be easy. The challenge to overcome this seeming contradiction was one we took on passionately.

The family home as a built outcome inspires, relaxes and calms busy minds, with beautifully crafted spaces, natural materials and endless dialogue with nature.

Each space offers intimate views and engagement with natural surroundings and vegetation, be it from courtyards, gardens, green roofs, or planters. Natural light, ventilation and direct sunlight give a profound sense of diurnal and seasonal rhythms. Borrowed views of gum trees from the adjacent park give the feeling of being immersed in nature, blurring the reality of the suburban setting.

While the north garden and adjacent parklands were identified as an opportunity early on, the north-south running orientation at the same time posed as a bit of a challenge, due to its limited access to northern light along the length of the land. Courtyards play a key role in the design response to this; allowing direct north sun deeper into the plan and also promoting excellent natural ventilation. Direct (and controllable) sunlight in each space, and an abundance of natural light – often from more than one aspect – provide comfortable and enjoyable spaces to inhabit.

Project Innovation

“Biophilia – Slate House Northcote” is designed to interact and engage with nature, the essence of Biophilic design. Below the strong monolithic slate form, a simple ground floor plan interweaves with nature, meandering out and in, carving two courtyards, at once grounding the house in the garden and drawing the garden back into the house. The building invites the adjacent park into the garden, borrowing natural vistas and extending the backyard, whilst embracing its wider contextual surroundings. Urban food production, green roofs and integrated planters create additional intimate connections with nature.

Natural materials predominate, slate, timber – inside and out, brick – old and new, and different natural stone treatments create beautiful textures, inspiring continuous engagement with delightful architectural spaces.

Courtyards play a key role in this; allowing direct north sun deeper into the plan and also promoting excellent natural ventilation. Seamlessly integrated technology such as a large solar PV array forms part of the architecture, and the integrated external shading coupled with correct orientation adds to the energy efficiency strategy.


Clients Comments

“It is a good house. The natural light is great. The flow and how we use the house works really well.  Views of the trees in the park are good. The house is warm.”


Seamlessly integrated Solar not only creates beauty and energy, but actually makes this all-electric home say good-bye to fossil fuels.

Local climate usually requires about 75% of energy for heating (25% for cooling). The house is designed to maximise solar heat gain, minimising the 75% active heating requirements. Cooling can then be met with PV – which performs at its best when it’s most required in summer.

Innovative slab heating and cooling system (heat-pump hydronic) works as natural ‘battery’ storage, both passively (under direct solar exposure it stores heat in winter) and actively (excess PV generation stores ‘coolth’ in summer).

The pool similarly works as additional ‘battery’ (like the slab)

Integrated home automation assists the design in promoting a sustainable lifestyle, e.g. automated external blinds control, raising alarm warning when switching on AC while window is open, etc

Of course, the holistic design approach also includes ‘the usual’, like passive solar design, thermal mass, optimised north eaves & cross ventilation, high performance windows with external active shading integrated into the design, a highly insulated and airtight building shell, etc.

Sustainable materials palette includes reused, sustainably sourced, natural and low-VOC materials with a  positive effect to the environment – e.g. recycled bricks, radially sawn sustainably forested local timber cladding, natural slate and stones, etc

Biophilia – a deep connection with nature to benefit the occupants health and well-being was core to the design concept.


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