The Concrete House demonstrates how a family home can showcase thoughtful environmentalism while giving full expression to the joys of beautiful design.
Rob Henry Architects has created one of Australia’s most desirable yet innovative residences, known as ‘Concrete House’, in a nod to its unpretentious, low-impact construction techniques. With polished concrete floors and walls signaling the house’s minimalist aesthetic, this stunning home redefines the contemporary family home for an environmentally conscious age.
In a testament to its innovative approach, Concrete House was judged the winner of the Australian Institute of Architects ACT Chapter 2019 Malcolm Moir and Heather Sutherland Award for Residential Architecture for its statement of endurance, resoluteness, and sustainability. Every design decision, material selection, and construction detail has been chosen to extend the dwelling’s lifespan while meeting the challenges of climate change.
Aesthetically, Concrete House makes the most of the site’s considerable advantages. ‘This is a typical family house for two parents and three children in a beautiful leafy street,’ say Rob Henry, Architect on the project. ‘The site itself is lovely, and quite generous in scale.’
The clients’ discerning nature was integral to the result. ‘They were very particular, with many informed ideas on what they wanted,’ Rob confirms. ‘The clients helped drive the whole program, including the core aesthetic, sustainability focus, and use of materials.’
From the beginning, then, Concrete House was destined to stand apart. ‘As the clients wished to ensure the project had an extremely high level of endurance, we planned the house according to the different life cycles of who would be living in it at a given time,’ Rob notes.
To address this ambition, the floorplan is sensitively structured around human use patterns. ‘There are three wings in this V-shaped house – one for children, one for parents, and another for general accommodation (which is a retreat to the lower part of the house),’ Rob states.
‘The children’s wing is both connected and separate,’ he continues. ‘Although it’s part of the wider floorplan, we designed it to be easily closed off from the rest of the environment if they move out in future. There’s also basement-level accommodation for an au pair if required, or if elderly parents have to be accommodated.’
The evocative surroundings of Concrete House have been carefully considered in terms of their effects on the building itself. ‘The front wing looks onto the leafy streetscape, while the other two focus on the courtyard and rear garden,’ Rob says. ‘This was done deliberately to ensure all spaces had excellent solar orientation.’
As Rob points out, the window and framing systems play a large role in this efficiency dividend. ‘Concrete House is striving for a passive house standard, based on solar orientation and air-tightness,’ he observes. ‘It utilises triple-glazed windows as key performance measures, enabling optimal operation in Canberra’s climate.
‘To ensure those window systems were functioning at the highest possible level to maximise the building’s thermal performance, we also installed all the triple-glazed windows with expanding seals and tapes,’ he adds.
‘The airtight nature we were able to achieve results in extremely low air changes per hour, increasing energy conservation. The window systems work perfectly in concert with the dual-layer wall system to prevent air leakage.’
Schüco sliding doors open the interior right up, providing abundant natural light throughout. ‘Those doors consist of large sliding panes of 1800mm wide, with inbuilt retractable flyscreens’ says Rob. ‘A series of casement windows also adds significantly to the interior light levels.’
Louvres shade the windows at required times to harmonise with the sun’s position. ‘The louvres we’ve used on the front façade responsively shelter those windows, while also creating privacy within the house.
‘A central corridor runs through the building’s spine, with the louvred window above the staircase looking out onto the streetscape,’ he continues. We also used slatted window screens in the basement area, which blends in with the cladding while creating a beautiful texture.’
Concrete House’s heating system is another example of the architect’s environmentally responsible thinking. ‘The heat recovery ventilation system distributes air around the building extremely efficiently by drawing air in from the outside, changing its temperature as it enters,’ says Rob. ‘This fresh air intake promotes circulation while keeping each space at a consistent temperature,’ he continues.
Concrete House’s energy-efficient systems extend beyond heating and cooling to power generation. ‘The building features hydronic slab hot water coupled with a solar battery system, dramatically reducing energy consumption by allowing the house to run off-grid for extended periods,’ Rob concludes.
The care with which Rob Henry Architects have engineered every aspect of Concrete House demonstrates how a family home can showcase thoughtful environmentalism while giving full expression to the joys of beautiful design.