Shane O'Brien – Bachelor of Architecture

Tag: architect

Last year, we took twelve months to travel overland from Asia, through Russia and Scandinavia, to Europe with our 9 and 11 year old children. (The first leg can be found here and the second leg here.) There were many positive outcomes and personal reinforcements from this grand adventure, one of those being to continue to live in a sustainable manner.

cycletouring, quadtandem, France

Cycle touring on our quad tandem in the European summer

So, when it came to looking for a house to call home we had a shortlist of attributes: centrally located – to reduce reliance on car and foster reliance on bike; ability to provide elbow-room for a soon-to-be-teenage family (and to subsequently reallocate these spaces, perhaps through renting them out); energy efficiency; north facing; space for chooks and a vegetable patch; good outlook, space and light.

The alternative of building on a vacant block didn’t really stack up for us – it doesn’t tick the sustainability box of re-use; most likely results in greater travel distances; would most probably result in living on a much smaller parcel of land; would probably negate access to mains power, water and sewer; and (for the house we ended up buying) doesn’t give us 30 years of established productive garden.

Whilst looking for a house, we happened upon one that sorely tempted us – way too many rooms, not particularly well located, would keep us in debt for longer than hoped – then we came back to the one we’d seen previously and have now bought. It has an impressive energy rating; north facing; 14 established deciduous trees; 17 productive fruit trees; four bedrooms – with attached studio (also giving us the possibility to increase site density); wonderful hard landscaping; space for the chooks; and spaces (both internal and external) that we’re excited about working with.

Stonewalls, paving, landscaping

Wonderful hard landscaping to the rear of the house



A site plan of our house and gardens

Being an old house, it has some shortfalls with regard to energy efficiency in particular. To address this, we intend to install photovoltaic cells (and batteries) for electricity production. We intend to zone the house – closing off the bedrooms and heating the living areas only. (Yes, we do have electric blankets!) Plus, we want to expand on-site water storage.

A few other sustainability issues were addressed: double glazed windows and doors were installed to the living spaces; low VOC paints were applied to the walls and low VOC oils to the freshly sanded timber floors; low VOC joinery components for the kitchen joinery; and recycled timbers for the new joinery and floor repairs.

brickveneercottage, treedgarden

The house is somewhere in there – amongst the garden…

The house will be quite different to when we bought it. Our intention is bring more light into the house and to achieve a greater sense of openness – whilst improving the house’s energy efficiency.

The renovations are currently a work-in-progress. Every room in the house will receive varying degrees of restoration or uplift. We’ve completed the kitchen. We’ve constructed a contemporary bay seat inserted into the dining space, and a new deck is to be built off the lounge area.

We have added this recycled timber bay seat/bay window

We have added this recycled timber bay seat/bay window


Our new kitchen

We were inspired by so many gardens throughout our travels – particularly the woven timber fences and structures – but that’s a longer term project….

wattle fence - twig spiral

This is not a wattle fence, but it’s very inspirational!

Stick trellis-stick fencing

We’ve started to create some ‘stick’ trellises and fencing from found timbers from the site – though more to come.



Being accepted to design a substantial house and outbuildings on a large rural site was exciting. There were a lot of briefed issues to be considered: many and frequent visitors; kitchen as the heart; roaring fires; robustness; easy care; the growing and active family; an evolving family eventually leaving home and visiting as young families; pool house; gym; home office; helping hands; machinery storage; environmental issues; limited power and services; stabling of the ponies; dogs, chooks; books…

View into the 20 hectare rural site

View into the 20 hectare rural site

Many sketches were produced in the early stages, in order to arrive at appropriate solutions. A significant number of sketches passed hands between myself and the interior designers appointed for the project.

One of many early sketches

One of many early sketches

"countryhouse" "ruralproperty" "stables"

3D CAD image of proposed country house in the Southern Highlands NSW

The house came to comprise a main living pavilion, children’s bedroom pavilion, pool house, double garage, machinery shed and stables.

The house performed particularly well in terms of it’s energy rating compliance, incorporating a number of systems to support it’s efficient, sustainable design:

  • North facing living areas.
  • Shading to west and east facades.
  • Heavy, pelmeted curtains.
  • Double glazed timber framed glazing.
  • Compartmentalisation of spaces.
  • Cross flow ventilation.
  • Thermal mass – concrete floor slabs / brick wall ‘spine’..
  • Solar assisted gas hydronic slab heating.
  • Solar hot water.
  • Photovoltaic cells.
  • Wetback fireplace – to assist hydronic heating.
  • 100,000 litre underground water storage.
  • Solar pool heating.

Some of the issues that effected the architecture, the site layout and the materials incorporated were: bushfire compliance requirements; distantly located mains power; no town water or sewer; access to the families ponies; and visual amenity.

The result is a striking contemporary residence proposed to be clad in fibre cement weatherboards, concrete block, folded copper sheet, galvanised steel sheet, cedar and hardwood.

The stylish, charming older couple were former clients when they invited me to design the major alterations and additions to their long dreamed about house on the coast. Some of the bigger issues for consideration were: respect for and retention of the existing heritage cottage; planning for the future to allow the now-extended two storey house to function on one level should accessibility become an issue; ability to close down portions of the house when the many friends and family weren’t visiting; flexible internal and external entertaining spaces; access to the superb ocean views.


The original timber framed cottage, located in a heritage precinct


Extensions to the rear of the cottage

Extensions underway to the rear of the cottage



Sympathetically renovated front facade


The rear facade of the extended timber coast house

A series of systems were incorporated to address the sustainability of the house:

  • North facing facade for passive solar access.
  • Passive ventilation stack to the lower floor laundry/store.
  • Cross flow ventilation – assisted by the breezeway.
  • Thermal mass – concrete floor slabs.
  • Compartmentalisation of the house – close off major portions of the house dependant on occupant levels.
  • 2,000 litre water storage.
  • Extensive use of timber cladding/lining and windows – recyclable material.
  • Re-use of existing storage sheds.

Internal breezeway viewed from the north facing deck

Attention was paid to future use of the building through:

  • Accessible gradients from the lower level garage to the upper floor level.
  • Installation of plumbing to a large cupboard on the upper floor to cater for fitout as a laundry.

The two storey additions to the timber cottage


Kitchen and living areas with ocean views.

To gain a clearer picture of just how much the cottage evolved through the transformation process, you can read a blog created previously.

There were quite a few factors driving the design of this house: the stunning views, which were captured from all but a few rooms – and most importantly from the bath!; the often harsh seaside environment, requiring careful detailing and material’s selection; the ability to open or close the facade to the elements; acoustic comfort; the long, exposed western site frontage; consideration of the aging demographic – to name a few…

NW corner of the house

NW corner of the house

Ground Floor - Bulli House #2

Ground Floor – Bulli House #2

The proximity of the house to the ocean brought with it the drama of the ever changing seaside environment and the delight gained from walking a few metres to the beach. With it came the need to shelter the occupants from the sun, the winds and salt laden air.

Materials selection had to be considered carefully in order to effectively close the house from the environment. External treatments were inclusive of a striking anodised aluminium ‘weatherboard’ cladding, anodised aluminium double glazed windows, anodised external venetian blinds and corrugated sheet roofing.

The primary facade facing the beach

The primary facade facing the beach


External venetian blinds provide privacy and solar control

External venetian blinds provide privacy and solar control

The external blinds also provided additional levels of privacy from adjacent neighbours.

Site orientation was not particuarly favourable for effective solar passive benefit, resulting in a long exposed western facade. Services, wet areas and vertical circulation spaces were housed along this facade, being shielded from solar input by a reverse masonry veneer wall.

Western facade to house

Western facade to house

Additional systems utilised to address the sustainability of the house were:

  • Compartmentalising the house – the ability to close areas when not in use.
  • Roof mounted solar ventilator utilised to assist both cooling and warming the building.
  • Accessing the cool thermal mass of the basement by drawing air through a riser at the lift core – also ventilates the basement.
  • 10,000 litre water storage.
  • Thermal mass provided through tiled concrete floor slabs.
  • Cross flow ventilation.
  • Double glazed thermally broken windows.

Consideration of future use were taken into account, with space being allocated to accommodate a possible elevator for accessibility, not only for ease of access by this young family, but by potential aged users. The spaces allocated are effectively utilised for storage in the interim.

Views were captured from all bedrooms and living spaces, utilising ‘bay windows seats’ to the bedrooms and the ever important bath.

A bath with a view!

A bath with a view!





Slot window providing light to the music room