Our home design needs to be much better, for the health of us and for the health of the planet

I’ve been working as an architect my whole adult life. Since I started my degree in 1997 while living in my mum’s mudbrick home, and now eight years into running my own practice, I have always had a passion for and an unwaivering need to produce and advocate for buildings which are more energy efficient, more environmentally sustainable and have a lower carbon footprint. Now in 2022 those three terms are probably the most overused greenwash catchphrases going around in the architecture space. I guess thats why I try and avoid them when speaking about my work, but in doing so probably don’t keep up with the marketing game the same way others do who are really on a quest to get their name out there in the industry. I’ve been working away quietly on my craft for some time, probably too quietly and modestly, but now that I’ve hit middle-age, have a wife and child and a big mortgage I have a greater sense that time is running out to try and make a big shift in that way we are designing and building all the buildings that civilization apparantly needs.

In Australia where I live and operate, it may seem like one of the most idyllic and luckiest places on Earth to live, but we have never really had a culture or history of designing homes appropriate to the climate. One of the common expressions for Australia housing is ‘glorified tent’, given the lack of airtightness, insulation and attention to orientation. You know, the basics.

I’ve always felt like I’ve been working in isolation to my peers with the way I look at things, even from back in my university days where I would be presenting my design projects made from strawbale and adobe and I would be getting grilled as to why I would choose to use such materials. One thing I know for sure is that there are a thousand architects willing to follow the trends in order to sell their service but how many are just presenting the plain facts about what you really need in a house. Do you really need a 250 square meter home with three bathrooms and two living areas just because we are being told by the big building companies that this is the enviable lifestyle that you can afford to have for yourself, and that building a bigger home will have better resale value? Nobody is talking about the value of building a home only as big as what you need, with an emphasis on the quality of the performance of the home rather than just its sheer size an supposed aesthetically pleasing facade.

Our buildings need to be better. They need to use less energy to heat and cool. They need to bring comfort and joy to those who live there, both physical and psychological, they need to be working for us so that we can have time to enrich our own lives instead of working endlessly to pay the heating and maintenance bill on a big energy guzzling home. We’ve known how to design and build better buildings for a long time but we lost our way during an era of seemingly inexhaustable energy and cheap materials. That era is now over.

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Matthew William Turner

Matthew William Turner

An environmentally conscious architect addressing the affordability and sustainability issue of housing, locally and globally. Enduring Domain Architecture.