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Eco-friendly home with vertical and rooftop gardens, solar heating, underground heat store

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New Sydney terrace house with black and white theme showcases sustainable design, with vertical garden, rooftop garden, solar water heating,

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Slotting a modern terrace into a row of 19th-century heritage buildings is as much of a challenge as it sounds.

And when you add in a width of just 4.9m and a requirement for extensive green features, the challenge simply compounds.

This was the task that Chris Knierim of Code Green and Designer Constructions Group faced when he set out to design a new home for his family – wife Belinda and sons Dieter and Liam – in Sydney.

"This was the only vacant site in the area," Knierim says. "It was part of a property we bought many years earlier, and consequently it had never been built on. Despite the narrow width, I was determined to prove we could have a family home that delivered high performance and comfort."

The designer says that his longstanding passion for contemporary sustainable design techniques was reinforced by working in the US and Europe.


"I was very impressed with the design applications of green roofs and vertical gardens in particular, and how they could help to heat and cool a home naturally. It became a priority to incorporate these elements into the design."

Knierim says the design was also influenced by local regulations that required the house to be a modern insertion into the heritage row.

"It had to read like a contemporary addition, not a replica. Even the materials needed to be different."

To meet this requirement the designer specified exposed steel, a textured concrete render in both black and white, and extensive glazing front and back. Even the front gate is a sliding glass door. The custom front entry features a photographic laser print etched onto the door, which is an aerial view of the house taken by Belinda, a photographer.

Equally dramatic is the 7m-high vertical garden at the entry, and the boundary garden, which signals the sustainable design approach taken throughout the entire build – even wastewater was recycled during construction.

"The gardens stop reflected heat from entering the house. They also help to insulate noise from the street," Knierim says.

A flowering rooftop garden plays a similar role, insulating the house and providing an aesthetically pleasing view for neighbours, and a natural environment for birds and insects, including bees.

On the inside, the house is open from front to back on the ground floor. To enhance the sense of space, the living room features a long mirrored strip recessed into the wall to create a flush surface. The mirror expands the view and helps to bounce reflected natural light throughout the interior. Strip mirrors also feature in all the other rooms.

"The ceiling in the living area is another highly reflective element," the designer says. "This is a high-gloss black latex material that reinforces the drama of the black and white colour theme."

Knierim describes the use of black and white as a yin and yang concept.

"Every white surface is balanced by a black one. For example, the right side of the living area features a white wall, while the opposite side is black – even the kitchen cabinets are a high-gloss piano black, so they seem to disappear from view. Instead the eye is drawn out to the courtyard garden at the rear."

The steel stairs are also black, and the bathrooms feature black and white tiles that create a pixellated effect.

"The black and white tiles reference photography. At the floor level they are mainly black, but as they move up the wall they get more pixellated till they are white at the top."

To bring light into the centre of the house the designer added long skylights above the stairs and bathroom. And internal doors are glazed with an opaque glass that provides privacy while letting the light pass through.

In keeping with the green approach, there are solar tubes on the rooftop. These heat water that is then diverted to an underground storage cell beneath the house, which keeps the water at a temperature of around 25°C. This water is used to heat the concrete floor slab as required, and also fills the hot water tank.

A cross ventilation system helps to keep the house cool in summer, so air conditioning is seldom required.

There is also an underground 3500-litre water storage tank to irrigate the rooftop and vertical gardens, and a suspended outdoor table incorporating a waterfall between sheets of glass.

First published date: 21 April 2015

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Credit List

Designer Chris Knierim, Code Green (Sydney)
Builder Designer Constructions Group
Interior designer Chris Knierim, Code Green
Glass coating EnduroShield
Green roof and vertical gardens Code Green
Green roof leak detection International Leak Detection (ILD)
Outdoor table Designer Constructions Group
Flooring Custom polished concrete; recycled blackbutt timber
Living room furniture King Furniture
Paints Dulux White on White
Lighting Hettich strip lighting
Stairs Custom fabrication by Designer Constructions Group
Kitchen appliances Fisher & Paykel
Tiles Trend Australasia
Wallpaper Wall Candy
Awards International Design Awards 2014, Milan for Sustainable Projects & Green Design, Architecture, Building & Structure Design, Interior Space & Exhibition Design, Landscape Planning & Garden Design; Housing Industry Australia (HIA) Green Smart Australian Home of the Year, National Green Smart Custom Built Home of the Year, Green Smart Energy Efficiency Project of the Year; Master Builders Association (MBA) Australia Award for Project $500,000 to $1 million, Environmental Management Award; Building Designs Australia (BDA) National Design Excellence Award – Australia's Best Designer, National Residential Sustainable Buildings award, National New Residential Buildings up to 250m2 Award; Building Product News Australian Sustainability Single Dwelling (New) Award.