Sydney Seeing Green

How exciting it is to see all the greenery popping up all over Sydney, as more and more architects and designers incorporate vegetation into their designs.031cheapsyd03



Above: Paddington Reservoir, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects

Decisions in the construction industry have a longstanding impact on the wider street-scape and city, so it important that we direct the built environment towards a sustainably conscious, responsible direction.


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Above: Prince Alfred Pool, Central, Neeson Murcutt Architects

Within the urban environment, the vegetation not only looks beautiful but provides many  benefits including: insulation (soil is a fantastic insulator), offsetting the urban heat island effect (the high thermal mass of the city absorbs heat), reduced rain water run off, increased biodiversity, fresh air!

There are also some great initiatives pushing for city farms which would reduce food mileage and encourage city dwellers outside!


Above: Trio Apartments, Camperdown, in collaboration with French Botanist Patrick Blanc



Above: Central Park by Jean Nouvel in collaboration with French Botanist Patrick Blanc

More links and further reading:

A great article by Broadsheet Sydney on Sydney’s Green Revolution

Sydney 202020 Vision

City of Sydney Green Roofs and Walls in Sydney

City of Sydney City Farm

Sydney City Farm Community

Zig Zag Cabin

Drew Heath Architect, 2003

This wonderful little abode is such an inspiration for high density/compact living. Tighter constraints, be they budget, size, time, can often be exciting, inspirational starting points for design.


Located in Wollombi, 2.5hrs North of Sydney, the Zig Zag Cabin is more akin to an oversized piece of joinery. The house sleeps three people, two at ground level and one at a mezzanine, reached by a ladder.

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Much thought has been given to the windows, which provide framed views of the natural environment surrounds. In such a small project, the detailing of the materials and junctions becomes important, as does the three dimensional use of space.


It is nice to feel enclosed, sheltered, with the opportunity to step outside and engross oneself in the natural elements.


Sometimes I feel that the integrity of a design can dissolve as the floor space or budget of a project grow.  A tightly configured puzzle suddenly gains volume and the project changes character.


The success of this project is the strength of the concept, and the purity with which it has been executed.  Rumour has it that the design was conceived in a sketch on a beer coaster, and aside from being a good story, perhaps it is representative of the direct translation of idea to building.

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If you’re lucky enough to acquire some bush land, surely the most delightful architectural solution is to step back humbly and thrust you into the wilderness?

Don’t seduce the occupant inside; encourage them to embrace their surrounds.


And I think this project does just that.  Rather than a territorial statement, narcissistically perched at the top of a hill like a discoverer’s flag, it is instead nestled half way down the hill, surrounded by a small timber deck, then natural bush.

A beautiful architecture, one that withstands trends and fashion, has adaptive usability.. Perhaps fundamentally, sustainable construction is one that will remain for a long time, continuing to enchant us?

See Drew Heath’s website:

Information and image source, ‘Zig Zag Cabin’, Architecture Australia by Brett Boardman:

Straw House

Project Straw House by Californian Architects Rael San Fratello 2010

All Images are from their website.


Straw House consists of three glass compartments: sleeping, eating/lounging, bathing.

These compartments are nestled amongst an insulative skin of stacked straw bales.


Amid the volume of straw come small passages between the three compartments.


Like a tactile maze, a contrast between the sleek, coldness of glass and the warm, earthiness of straw.


RSF Architects do some interesting, experimental work. Aiming to constantly redefine themselves, they see building as the privilege to build a full scale study model. – A delightful, thoughtful approach to architecture and construction.


A constant experimentation and exploration. No fear to remain naive, to recognise one’s blindness with a willingness to learn.entrance2broken_bales

Read on for a great extract from their ‘about’ page on their website. I’d love to collaborate with architects of such humble, personable background:

We are a studio that disrupts the conventions of architecture by tackling topics not typically of interest to architects. We start galleries in the middle of nowhere. We talk to homeless people. We stack straw bales. We play in the mud. We start corporations. We imagine a better border. We question green. We love fluorescents and brown. We write. We educate. We learn. We often lose, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. We believe that the turtle wins the race. We believe old things can be new again. We hope that the new things we make will someday be old. Another company’s trash is sometimes our treasure. We believe there is nothing wrong with making money. We do free work (and lots of it). We print buildings. We love dust. We believe that when there is architecture there should also be food. We believe salt has a place in architecture. We are obsessed by materials. We try to proceed and be bold. We think that, when it comes to architecture, there is nothing wrong with lying and accentuating. We love making in California and we love Oakland. We have future-forward aspirations. We have rural gesticulations and intonations. We know you’ve never heard of our favorite architects. We know you’ve probably never heard of us. We are willing to deny any of this if it isn’t any fun.

Rael San Fratello is Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello

Cycle Storage

It’s been great to see push bikes having a growing presence on the road in Sydney recently.


As a rider myself, regularly tenanting tiny houses comes with the constant struggle: where to store your bike!


If you live in a small house or apartment and regularly use your bike, you may have experienced this common problem.. so how do you store your wheels?


There are some great, playful and innovative solutions on the internet so I thought I’d show a few.


I love how the bike becomes another household object in this storage shelf by Post Fossil, the bike just seated amongst the books and shoes. Post Fossil are a great collective of designers whose holistic approach considers not just sustainable material use but the influence of social behaviour patterns too. Check out their website here.



Bikes as beautiful, sculptural objects such as the following example by Cycle Love..


These are mainly indoor solutions, I’d love to see more creative ideas for external, safe, weatherproof storage ideas.

CAN anyone suggest any?

Happy Riding

A Straw Tale

CAN Studio had the wonderful opportunity in May last year to attend a straw bale building course, hosted by Sam Vivers of Viva Homes.


Why build straw bale?

Straw is an incredible insulator. This means it does not readily allow the passage of heat or sound. So if you heat your house, it will stay warm, or if you cool your house it will stay cool. And if you build with straw bale walls, internally will be a fairly consistent temperature all year round.


Straw is a natural, organic material that can be sustainably grown. Building with natural materials = healthy home = healthy occupants.


The Building Course

The course was run at the Australian Rural Education Centre (AREC), Mudgee, New South Wales. It ran for three days and was the perfect balance of classroom learning in the morning, followed by hands on building in the afternoon. This meant not only a thorough, all round learning experience, but one that appeased both the practical and the more technical learners.


Course topics covered the whole process, from initial design stages, council and statutory regulations, to technical building considerations and different building options, to the final coats of render. Not only did it cover what to do, but what NOT to do! A great strength of this course was the use of demonstration walls. Unlike other courses, where a building must be completed within the given timeframe, the wall construction in this course was for demonstration only, so no time pressures!


The course attracted a wonderful demographic of people, from house-owners, to owner-builders, builders, carpenters, architects, engineers, designers, and general straw bale enthusiasts! -Not everyone had a background in building and construction.


As the trainer, Sam Vivers generously shared his knowledge, allowing us to learn from his past mistakes, hoping to minimise ours! Sam is a great advocate for straw bale building. He began his journey in the mainstream construction industry, but moved quickly away from the toxic, chemical based building products to build his own home with natural materials.


Sam has never looked back, and is the director of Viva Living Homes, a successful straw bale house design and construction company.

Check out his website here:

See the AREC website here:

Streets in the Sky

Alison + Peter Smithson (A+PS)

As well as looking at current trends and ideas, its good to reflect on past concepts too.

Post WWII England celebrated victory at a huge economic sacrifice, seen in the shortage of housing and social services. Slums were associated with terrace houses and architects felt responsible for social improvement through built form.

Alison and Peter Smithson were two British architects that strove for a universal architecture by rationalising and simplifying into four functions: dwelling, work, recreation and transportation.

Their photographer friend Nigel Henderson was fascinated with the strong sense of community fostered in narrow, terraced streets. See below, his photographs of everyday scenes in East London’s Streets in the 1950’s.

A+PS were interested in one’s connection to the city, donning  the ‘hierarchy of human association’: individual – house – street – district – city. See their diagram below.

They reasoned that residents of apartment housing lost the first point of contact with the world: the street.

human assoc street

They tried to counteract this by introducing ‘streets in the sky’ -widened circulation corridors. See below, their illustration for the Golden Lane Project. -Note Marilyn Monroe in the foreground!

These streets were intended as locations for social exchange similar to a residential street.

Contrary to their intentions, other than the consideration of ‘street’ width, there was little incentive for residents to stay or interact, and the horizontal circulation became little more than widened thoroughfares, sometimes resulting in back alley, ‘ghetto’ situations such as the Robin Hood Housing Scheme (illustration above).

See photo below of Park Hill, Sheffield; a Smithson inspired development with widened circulation.

Despite mixed success in their realised projects, A+PS’s ideas represented a commitment to humanism in architecture, and their ideas remain pertinent today.

With current trends towards vertical gardens, green roofs and walls, CAN these ideas be revised and reapplied to current developments?

Post update -Robin Hood Gardens Estate set to be demolished August 2015. In light of this tragic news check out this short video created to reflect the recent news:




Banham, Reyner, 1961, “Apropos the Smithsons”, New Statesman, No. 62

Mumford, Eric, 2000, “The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928-1960”, The MIT Press, Cambridge

Smithson, Alison, 1967, “Urban Structuring: Studies of Alison and Peter Smithson”, Reinhold Published Corporation, New York

Smithson, Alison, Smithson, Peter, Bakema, Jacob, van Eyck, Aldo, van Ginkel, Daniel, Voelcker, John, Hovens Greve, Hans, 1968, “Doorn Manifesto”, Team 10 Primer, Smithson, Alison, The MIT Press, Cambridge, p75

Smithson, Alison and Peter, 2005, “The Charged Void: Urbanism”, The Monacelli Press, New York, Edited by Spellman, Catherine, Unglaub, Karl, 2005, “Peter Smithson: Conversations with Students”, Princeton Architectural Press, New York

Vidler, Anthony, 2003, “Toward a Theory of the Architectural Program”, October, Vol. 106, The MIT Press, p59-74

Webster, Helena, 1997, “Modernism Without Rhetoric: Essays on the work of Alison and Peter Smithson”, Academy Editions, London

All images are linked to their internet sources

Renovate or Relocate

Buying, selling, moving. With its associated costs, it’s no wonder that more and more people are turning to renovating rather than relocating.


Renovating is a great way to spend money directly on improving the way you live.


Clever design often maximises storage and promotes efficient use space (often through multipurpose rooms and open planning).


It’s a great, sustainable way to consider a building as something that can be altered and adjusted to suit your needs, rather than demolished and rebuilt.


Just think of beautiful terrace houses that have gradually been adapted over their 100 year life yet continue to serve the inhabitants.


The images in this blog come from Small Spaces Interior Design. The 65m2 garden apartment [completely renovated by SSID] was valued at $150k more than what the owners bought it for three years prior in 2010. This, following a $45k construction budget!

Check out the clever storage solutions and open plan living.


For more information see