Resilient Architecture

  • The word ‘resilient’ has such a broad interpretation. For some architects, this word suggests permanence, a sense of longevity that removes a design from the latest fad or fashion. Others refer to the materials used, plantation-grown sustainable timbers or using materials that respond to the local climate.

    The devastating bushfires Australia has experienced, both in 2009 with ‘Black Saturday’ and more recently, over last summer across the continent, certainly make you pause and think about resilient architecture. The onset of COVID-19 has also made architects more conscious of factoring in working more from home. “It’s important to look at creating homes that last, rather than seeing temporary solutions,” says architect Albert Mo, director of Architects EAT.

    Architects EAT

    Kew Residence

    Architects EAT was one of hundreds of architects who registered with Architects Assist to give up their time to design houses for those who lost homes in the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Although Albert didn’t see one of his designs implemented in this venture, organised by the Australian Institute of Architects (Victorian Chapter), his practice has built a number of resilient homes that will continue to be enjoyed for decades to come.

    A concrete house in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, for example, is about as solid and monumental as one could hope for. “Concrete has been used for thousands of years, just look at the Pantheon,” Albert says, who was as mindful of the home’s thermal properties as much as its permanence and longevity. In winter, the concrete floors and walls function as a heat bank, absorbing the winter sunlight. And in summer, the home’s voids purge the hot air via the operable highlight windows.

    With COVID-19, Albert has noticed clients wanting not only two separate home offices, but in some cases, three, allowing the family the option of working from home going forward. “Resilient architecture needs to address issues such as COVID-19, not just in the short term, but well into the future. Spaces also have to be flexible if they’re going to relevant going forward,” he adds.

    James Garvan Architecture

    Bondi House 01

    Architect James Garvan readily admits that most of the bespoke homes he designs aren’t surrounded by bush. However, as the recent fires along the central coast of New South Wales showed, fire could strike from anywhere. “The homes I’ve designed still need to be resilient, built to last for the long term, rather than simply for the latest trend or fashion,” says Garvan, who has just completed a house in Clovelly, clad entirely in ironbark. “It’s a proven timber that stands the test of time. Just look at the woolsheds dotted around Australia or the beach shacks from the 1950s that continue to be enjoyed,” he adds.

    Garvan also enjoys working with steel, but is mindful of using it for a house perched on a cliff. “If I am using steel in a fairly exposed environment, it’s always treated with an iron oxide, not dissimilar to the one used for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.” And rather than imposing his own architectural vision on a client, Garvan sees the design process as one of collaboration, with the needs of the client both now, and into the future, being addressed. “It’s not about how I want to live, but how my clients use a home and what they want to achieve in the process. That translates to resilient architecture.”

    Clare Cousins Architects

    Christmas Hills House

    Architect Clare Cousins was also part of the Architects Assist program, responding to people who had lost their homes during the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Then, still a relatively new practice (established four years prior), Cousins put forward free concepts to those in need, with a relatively modest price tag attached should the owner/s wish to take it further and build. Referred to as the ‘Hinge House’, Cousins’ scheme centred on an elongated floor plan with a crank at the core that could be adjusted to respond to the site, the orientation, and/ or the topography. “Our design was essentially a series of modules as the family expanded,” Clare says, whose scheme was for a COLORBOND house, but was eventually adapted to be brick at the client’s request.

    When the original design for Architects Assist was picked up by clients in the Yarra Valley, Cousins also offered to document the plans for the subsequent builder to achieve. “The recent bushfires make you even more acutely aware of designing resilient architecture. In the case of fire, there should be fire shutters on windows, integrated external watering systems and looking closely at the structural system, preventing fire from entering under a house,” Clare says.

    “When you speak of resilient architecture, it’s about responding to the site and the unique climate. Materials have to last the distance.”


    – Fiona Dunin

    FMD Architects


    FMD Architects director Fiona Dunin was also mindful of the bushfire zone for a new house along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. The three-level house, including basement carparking, is clad in spotted gum and cement sheets, with the cement applied with a specific paint to prevent damage from the harsh salty condition. “I also wanted to make sure the house felt anchored to the elevated site,” Fiona says, who also used non-corrosive screws.

    The interior features a double-height stone wall, along with concrete floors, that act as a heat sink during the winter months. “I wanted the house to feel comfortable all year round,” Fiona says, who included protected outdoor terraces. Working with landscape architects Hansen Partnership, FMD Architects framed the house with appropriate native vegetation that would be resilient to the coastal environment.

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