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Sanctuary magazine issue 10 - All together now - Castlemaine, Victoria green home profile

Sanctuary magazine issue 10 - All together now - Castlemaine, Victoria green home profile

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Published by Sanctuary Magazine
An eco development strikes gold in rural Victoria. Green home feature article from www.sanctuarymagazine.org.au, sustainable house design from Australia.
An eco development strikes gold in rural Victoria. Green home feature article from www.sanctuarymagazine.org.au, sustainable house design from Australia.

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Published by: Sanctuary Magazine on Jan 25, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 An eco development strikes gold in rural Victoria
By Fiona Negrin
Lilting bird song, stately river red gums andabundant foliage give the impression that we’refar from civilisation. So it’s a pleasant surprise torealise that the local shops and train station area ten-minute walk away. Gently perched in thelandscape, so modest you don’t notice them atrst, are eight small homes. Welcome to MunroCourt, a sustainable housing development inthe old Victorian gold mining town of Castlemaine.“The idea was to build very small houseswith a modern feel but rustic aesthetic; homessettled in Australian bush gardens,” saysdesigner Robyn Gibson of Lifehouse Design,based in Castlemaine. The development wasinitiated by a local couple, Sue Turner and DonWild, whose vision was to build a cluster of energy-efcient modern houses that harmon-ised with the landscape. Social sustainabilitywould be a key criterion, as would the potentialfor elderly people to downsize in comfort andage in place.Sue and Don teamed up with Robynand Paul Hassall of Lifehouse Design, andSue’s son Sam Cox of Sam Cox Landscaping,to turn the vision into reality.Although the houses are placed quite closeto each other, they don’t have boundary fences,so strategic design was employed to instil asense of seclusion.“All living areas face onto the sleeping andbathing areas of the neighbouring house,so nobody’s living areas look into any others,”says Robyn. “Additionally, there are screens,earth mounds and plantings between housesto provide privacy.”Robyn and Paul worked closely with Samto harmonise the houses with the landscape. The homes, none of which is larger than 150square metres (the average new home in Australia is around 240 square metres), sharean unobtrusive colour scheme of soft grey andtan, and are built with natural materials of bricksand timber, including
Cypress macrocarpa
reclaimed from farm windbreaks. Remnant oldtrees frame the plantings, which are all localspecies. Robyn muses, “The whole court islled with foliage – you look at the gardens, notthe houses”. Thanks to appropriate specieschoice and generous mulching, the plants havethrived in a climate of increasingly drier wintersand hotter summers.
“Residents share responsibility for tending thecommunal vegie garden, emptying the compostand feeding the chooks. Sometimes they dinetogether. And it happens entirely organically”
Living at Munro Court are young families,couples and single retirees. One of the latter isWin, who volunteers at the University of the Third Age and enjoys bushwalking. Win wasn’tespecially looking for an environmentallysustainable home, but she was charmed by thehouse. “I walked into this room and I justthought, it’s so beautiful, so full of light. And thenishes, the colours, so much thought hasgone into details and the ttings.”Win also appreciated the house’s roomi-ness. “A small space can be well used. There’stons of storage. Big windows and high ceilingsgive a sense of spaciousness. It’s a small housebut it feels like a big house because it has theright proportions.” Within three hours of seeingthe house, she’d bought it.Win has since become a convert to sustain-able living. “The ecological design isn’t some-thing that I was looking for but I’m totally thrilledwith it because it works so well.” In winter, themorning sun pours into her north-facingwindows and “ten minutes later, the living roomis warm”. Castlemaine is notorious for itsextreme temperatures. Win says she looked atold houses but “they had no north-facingwindows, and their bi-monthly gas bill was$600. I didn’t want that. This house is efcientto run. My biggest bi-monthly gas bill in winterwas $80, and I was never cold.”To compensate for Castlemaine’s frostywinters, the houses at Munro Court have large,north-facing double-glazed windows and highlevels of insulation to keep the heat in. Concreteslab oors help maintain a stable temperatureeven on the chilliest nights, and gas heatingboosts warmth when needed. Summers canbe scorchers, but there’s no need for activecooling in the houses because external awningsand pergolas offer shade, while doors andwindows can be ung open and ceiling fansoperated to move cool air through the house.Munro Court cheerfully fulls its brief of social sustainability. Robyn and Win nish eachothers’ sentences as they list the occasionsthat bring neighbours together: to have drinkswhen a new person moves in; to hold remanagement meetings; and to participate inrevegetation working bees. Residents shareresponsibility for tending the communal vegiegarden, emptying the compost and feeding thechooks. Sometimes they dine together. And ithappens entirely organically.“One of the really nice things here is thatthere’s no formal organisation for any jobs to bedone,” says Win. “People ask me, ‘who ownsthe chooks? Do you have rosters? Do you havea vegie bed each?’ but it’s not organised likethat. People pitch in when they have time andwe all share produce. Elderly neighbours whocan’t contribute to the garden still share eggsand vegetables from the garden. It’s verypleasing and generous.”
“Their vision was to build a cluster of energy-efcientmodern houses that harmonised with the landscape”

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