design for
The Subtropical Home is a special place with a unique character:
• The Subtropical Home encourages an informal and relaxed lifestyle.
• The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns
• The Subtropical Home utilises local resources sustainably.
• The Subtropical Home connects us with our landscape and outdoor
• The Subtropical Home contributes to the character of the
• The Subtropical Home respects the importance of water in our
• The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation.
Introduction 3
Summary Principles 7
Detailed Principles 15
February 2005
This material was produced with funding from the Centre for Subtropical Design, a partnership between Brisbane City
Council and the Queensland University of Technology.
This Report is provided for information only. The authors, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane City Council,
The Centre for Subtropical Design at QUT (the publishers) do not accept liability to any person for the information or
advice provided in this publication or incorporated into it by reference. The publishers therefore expressly exclude any
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In nature we encounter experiences that stretch across generations, and such experience is shaped by its historical,
environmental and cultural fabric.
This project is about the identification of our unique subtropical character and the values inherent in the siting, experiences,
memory, structure and materials that make up the architecture of the detached dwellings many of us live in. It is about
incorporating this character and these values that not only define a place, but also provide experiences that have united
generations into the fabric of our South East Queensland homes.
More fundamentally, when entering SEQ, the merging of architecture and landscape announces an encounter with a
special, unique place. We need to balance the suburban sameness by and large produced by the project home market
with a human-scale, sustainable architecture that will fold into its subtropical surrounds.
In seeking to identify key elements for a subtropical home it is important to realise that communities are supported
by places and recurrent landscape elements that clearly speak their identity. These may be derived from the historic
responses to the natural setting, patterns of land use and social activity that over time have shaped the area’s lifestyle
and form. The character of a subtropical home is distinct and sometimes subtle, yet immediately recognisable as a special
place by residents and visitors alike.
Subtropical South East Queensland provides a place for rich contact with natural systems and distinctive settings. If SEQ
grows in a form responsive to this setting, we will add meaning, as we become aware of the presence and beauty of the
area in our daily activities. To make this happen, design principles and guidelines may help to give direction to the region’s
development. On a regional and neighbourhood level, scenic landmarks and views must be preserved and created, and
natural connections must be enhanced. On a more intimate scale, places must take shape that enhance and integrate into
the landscape. Most importantly, ecological connections must be maintained to protect natural systems and human scale
connections must be designed to create places that sustain the environment and foster community.
The Centre for Subtropical Design, a joint partnership between QUT and BCC, and the architectural firm of Bligh Voller
Nield have collaborated in the production of this document.
The illustrations focus on the concept and design of the Brisbane Sustainable Home, a demonstation project by the
Australian Green Development Forum, supported by the BCC. The project team for the Brisbane Sustainable Home have
therefore also contributed to this document:
• Architect - Bligh Voller Nield
• Landscape and Ecology Consultants - Yurrah
• Civil and Hydraulic Engineers - Bligh Tanner
• Services and Thermal Engineers - Lincolne Scott
• Builder - Natural Lifestyle Homes
• Project Managers - Urban Blueprint
The Subtropical Home encourages an informal and relaxed lifestyle
• Seamless indoor/outdoor living: large verandahs, shaded decks
• Home raised up off the ground: suits hilly terrain, less susceptible to floods, better protected from pests and catches the
• Open plan living: cross ventilation essential for relief from heat and humidity
The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns appropriately
• Orientation takes advantage of solar access, prevailing breeze, and views
• Large openings catch the cool breezes in summer
• Shaded windows and walls protect from summer sun and rain
• Construction details for a cooler house: high ventilated roof, wide eaves, insulation, lightweight, masonry only if fully
shaded, light coloured roof and walls
• Spaces are illuminated with abundant natural light
• Capture sun’s warmth during winter
The Subtropical Home utilises local resources sustainably
• Design the home for standard sizes to minimise waste materials
• Consider using locally produced materials
• Select appropriate sustainable building materials and resources
• Choose building materials with low embodied energy
• Use durable products and materials
• Incorporate recycled materials
The Subtropical Home connects us with our landscape and outdoor activities
• Subtropical landscapes contribute to the character of subtropical living spaces
• The garden is part of the house: focus of living and outdoor activities
Olivia Martin-McGuire
The Subtropical Home contributes to the character of the neighbourhood
• The front garden is a shady place for chats, greetings, or just watching the world go by
• Existing trees, native gardens and views enhance natural connections with the surrounds
• Celebrate the diversity and style of form of our subtropical streetscape
Olivia Martin-McGuire
The Subtropical Home respects the importance of water in our community
• Roofs collect our limited and precious water resources in tanks for reuse
• Water features create habitats for native wildlife
• Irrigation is minimised: water wise garden, controllers, drip irrigation
• Water management strategies are integral
The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation
• Areas surrounding the home are climate responsive: shady, sheltering, cooling
• A biodiverse garden supports habitats for native wildlife
• Soil is conserved: vegetation, erosion control, terracing
• Food producing landscapes are very rewarding
• Distinctly Queensland gardens may use the character of past gardens as a stepping off point to create gardens for the future
• Protects and restores the natural ecosystem
• Celebrates the senses - sound, sight, smell, taste
Olivia Martin-McGuire
Indoor/outdoor living
Multiple pathways
The Subtropical Home encourages an informal and relaxed lifestyle
Seamless indoor/outdoor living supports our informal relaxed lifestyle and makes for comfortable living in
our subtropical climate.
• Include ‘outdoor rooms’ to foster a direct relationship between the home and outdoor recreational landscape spaces. Such
outdoor rooms may be a verandah, deck, courtyard, patio, gazebo and porch and these spaces together should make up 20% or
more of the area of the home.
• Make indoor/outdoor living areas large enough to accommodate a variety of uses. They should allow space for a table, chairs,
plants, BBQ and day beds, clothes drying etc. They would need to be 15-30m² or more with a depth of at least 3.6m if possible
for effective weather protection, flexibility of furniture layout and circulation.
• The ‘outdoor room’ may have a dual purpose such as a sleepout that may be used for entertaining or storage (provided that
outdoor rooms are added). The underneath of the house can be used for kid’s play, laundry, workshop, craft and hobby areas,
storage or future extension of the home, fernery or shade house, or simply a used sitting area. The provision of insect/security
screening that gives more flexibility to the use of these spaces.
• Integrate a breezeway to concentrate air movement through the home and thus enhance comfort during humid periods. A 3m
width allows it to become an outdoor room suitable for various activities (reading, sewing, studying, ironing, hobbies, etc), eat-
ing or even sleeping.
• Create for multiple ‘pathways’ around the house and from the indoors to outdoors to make for an open relaxed lifestyle.
A home raised up off the ground responds to our hilly topography and susceptibility to floods.
• Provides extra ‘undefined’ space underneath the house protected from rain and sun for play, storage, carport, workshop, clothes
drying, parties, laundry, etc.
• Allows for inexpensive future expansion and lifestyle changes (eg separate accommodation of young adult children, elderly
relatives, home based work, tenants).
Raised off the ground
Undefined space Materials
The Subtropical Home encourages an informal and relaxed lifestyle
Open plan living and a relatively narrow floor layout will promote cross ventilation necessary when days
are hot and humid.
• Allow flexible use of the space for a variety of activities such as eating, sitting, chatting, TV, music, computer.
• Consider open plan bedrooms for children with storage elements (wardrobes, shelves, etc) as room dividers to keep good cross
ventilation and orientation throughout house.
• Combine elements such as the bathroom, toilet, laundry (eg two-way bathroom in lieu of ensuite, combined bathroom/laundry,
etc) to leave more area open for living and outdoor rooms.
There are different ways of living in the house, in the garden, and in different seasons together with ways
that the house may comfortably adapt to changes in seasons.
• In summer, open windows, highlights and doors on both sides of the house to catch cool afternoon breezes; leave house open
at night to let in cool night air; close in morning when sun starts to heat up; adjust venetians/awnings or close curtains to
shade windows.
• In winter, let as much sun and light into home as possible, and close venetians or curtains at night to keep warmth in.
Materials can impart a comfortable feeling to the home reinforcing an informal casual lifestyle.
• Natural materials will feel cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
• Recycled timber is already weathered and is low maintenance
• Lots of openings and glass give a feeling of transparency and unite the indoors with outdoor living and views.
Traditional sunshading
Olivia Martin-McGuire
Olivia Martin-McGuire
The Subtropical Home encourages an informal and relaxed lifestyle
Home is protected from pests common to subtropical regions.
• Raise home up off the ground to provide some protection from mosquitoes, lizards, etc and allow for easy inspection and treat-
ment for termites.
• Rat/possum/bird proof the home by preventing entry by sealing up any holes or gaps where they may gain entry to the home
and ceiling spaces.
• Fans will discourage mosquitos.
A healthy home allows for the fact that heat and humidity promote mould growth and exacerbate the
problems of off gassing from toxic materials.
• Introduce100% fresh air and maximise natural ventilation.
• Eliminate/minimise air conditioning to reduce concentration of toxins in the air.
• Select non-toxic materials.
• Select materials that do not promote mould growth.
• Eliminate/minimise herbicide, pesticide and fertilisers in garden and home.
A sensitive engagement with the site and the natural environment together with the careful selection of
materials evokes an experience and awareness of a special place.
• Borrow time-tested aspects of traditional homes and gardens which evolved in response to the climate, topography, and local
skills, materials and plants.
• Recognise the character and diversity of the vernacular housing which adapted historically and culturally familiar forms to the
local climate.
Spend time on site
Orientation for climate
Summer sun angles
Winter sun angles
The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns appropriately.
Orientation to take advantage of solar access and the prevailing breeze.
• Exclude direct sun during summer, capture the sun’s warmth during winter thgrough correct orientation and shading.
• Place the house with its longest sides facing north and south to minimise eastern and western sun.
• Raise home up off the ground to better captures breezes.
• Deflect cold winter winds by minimising and or/screening openings to west and south west.
• Locate bedrooms on ‘cool side’ (south) or east for morning light.
• Locate laundry, bathroom, garage etc on ‘hot’ side (west) as buffer.
The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns appropriately
Openings oriented and protected in consideration of daylight, sun, rain, wind and views.
• On the south side of the house, consider medium to large windows, daylighting and views as little direct sun will hit the
windows. Access summer morning south east breeze, eliminate cold winter south west wind and provide overhangs for rain
protection to all openings.
• To the west, consider low afternoon sun, winter afternoon sunsets, small or no windows to minimise heat gain and glare, loca-
tion of laundry, bathrooms, storage, garage, etc to buffer rest of home, overhangs for rain protection, external vertical fins to
shade openings and walls.
• To the east, consider low morning sun, morning light (and warmth in winter) to bedrooms, kitchen, where you eat breakfast, etc,
summer afternoon cooling breezes (otherwise small windows to minimise heat gain and glare), overhangs for rain protection,
vertical fins to shade openings and walls.
• To the north, consider medium to large windows for daylighting, heating and views to living areas, outdoor ‘rooms’, verandahs
summer afternoon cooling breezes, overhangs for sun and rain protection.
• Extend the eaves at least 900mm over walls to reduce water and sun falling on the walls, windows, doors, and at the intersec-
tion of walls and eaves.
Shaded openings
Fans combined with natural ventilation
The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns appropriately
Large openings catch the cool breezes in summer.
• Face openings north north-east and south east (or within 45 degrees)
• Openings should let air in and let air out to allow the same volume of air to leave as enters (be of equal size), ideally be no
more than about 6m apart (if not catching breeze) and be sized considering that insect screens reduce ventilation by about 50%
and more if not kept clean.
• Make maximum use of full-height doors and windows (louvres, hoppers, casement and double hung) throughout the house,
opening fanlights or fretwork over doors to optimise ventilation.
• Produce large openings of sliding doors or multiple open doors between window and outdoor rooms.
• Security (insect screens, grilles, etc) may be needed generally so that home may be ventilated at night, but also to exclude
unwanted visitors such as possums, rats, mice, mosquitos, etc and to keep cats in at night.
• Fans combined with natural ventilation will be most effective for cooling and may be used both indoors and outdoors, as well
as in reverse (some fans only) for pushing heat down in the winter.
Shaded openings and walls protect from summer sun.
• Large overhangs / at least 900mm.
• Large overhangs/eaves, operable external louvres or awnings to north
• Vertical shading devices for east and west openings.
• External blinds/shading are more effective than internal blinds/curtains/drapes because heat is blocked before it enters the
High ventilated roof
The Subtropical Home responds to the local weather patterns appropriately
Construction details are selected for a cooler house.
• ‘Double’ roof that is a high ventilated roof with ceiling below, or fly roof.
• Roof ventilation by a ventilated ridge or gable end or rotary rooftop ventilator.
• Lightweight construction cools down more rapidly than heavyweight materials such as masonry.
• Some heavyweight construction may help to stabilise the temperature if it can be well ventilated by cool night air in the
summer and warmed up in winter.
• Select light coloured roof and exterior paint to reflect heat.
The sun’s heat is captured in winter.
• Orient your home to take advantage of solar access.
• Protect from winter winds.
• Insulate your home to hold in the warmth.
Spaces are illuminated with natural light which is beautiful and abundant in our subtropical location.
• Orient windows to let in daylight.
• Bounce daylight off light coloured walls or light shelves.
• Protect windows (using adjustable blinds) to make daylight useful such as adjustable blinds to control glare.
Olivia Martin-McGuire
Olivia Martin-McGuire
The Subtropical Home utilises local resources sustainably
Design the home for standard sizes to minimise waste materials
• Optimise building materials
• Avoid waste from structural overdesign
Consider using locally produced materials
• Use materials sourced and produced locally to reduce transport impact and costs
Select appropriate sustainable building materials and resources
Choose building materials with low embodied energy
• Select building materials that require less processing to manufacture
Use durable products and materials
• Choose durable products to minimise maintenance and replacement of materials
Incorporate recycled materials
• Incorporate recycled building materials and products
• Use building products made from recycled materials
Olivia Martin-McGuire
The Subtropical Home connects us with our landscape and outdoor activities
Subtropical landscapes contribute to the character of subtropical living places.
• Protect existing trees.
• Use diverse layered plantings such as native groundcovers, shrubs and trees.
• Remove invasive species and environmental weeds.
• Leave plants space to grow.
• Minimise lawn areas that are needed for some specific use.
• Prune selectively and properly so that trees will get stronger and be more likely to resist pests.
The garden is part of the house, the focus of living, and perhaps the most important successful living area.
• Consider use of the garden according to season (shady spots for summer, sunny for winter) and activities such as eating,
cooking, entertaining, relaxing, chatting, playing, gardening, clothes drying, etc.
• Use all sides of the garden (front, back, sides) and maintain ‘pathways’ through all areas.
• Leave spaces for children to play.
• Leave undefined places to fill-in or change in the future.
• Reserve a place for the clothes line or hoist.
Watch the world go by Retain trees A path to the entry
The Subtropical Home contributes to the character of the neighbourhood
• Retention of significant existing trees, planting native gardens, remove environmental weeds, reinforcement of
vistas and topography enhances natural connections with local elements such as river and creeks, coastlines, hills,
ridges and valleys.
• Recognise the unique character of the vernacular building forms and celebrate the diversity of the style and form of
our subtropical streetscape.
• Site and plan the home for orientation suited to our climate and considering the density, and variety of housing
around the home and the likely ways it may change over time particularly as density increases.
• Plant trees that will shade the footpath and street to cool down the area immediately around the home and help to
reduce the heat island effect generally.
• A path to the entry, somewhere to store a bicycle, and shelter from the sun and rain at doorways makes access for
bikes and pedestrians easier supporting the outdoor lifestyle so popular in the subtropics.
• The front verandah, steps, porch, a shady garden structure over the front gate or large tree creates a transition
space in relation to the footpath and street. A place for chats with the neighbours, welcoming people, saying good-
bye, or just watching the world go by.
Infiltration Trenches
Grey water treatment system under tanks
The Subtropical Home respects the importance of water in our community
The soil is able to absorb and filter water, reducing pollution and stormwater runoff, thereby keeping our
local creeks clean.
• Use porous/permeable paving on driveway and paths.
• Lay pavers with spaces and low water use plants between them.
Conserve and reuse water to protect our limited and precious water resources.
• Reduce consumption of potable town water
• Collect and reuse rainwater.
• Collect, treat and reuse greywater for watering plants where permissible.
• Create a water wise garden.
• Reduce pollution of stormwater by eliminating the use of chemicals in the garden, using organic fertiliser, compost, mulch,
organic pest control methods, and controlling sedimentation.
• Reduce flow to sewerage using dual flush toilets, flushing less regularly and using recycled water for flushing.
Yurrah Pty Ltd Yurrah Pty Ltd
Yurrah Pty Ltd
Yurrah Pty Ltd
The Subtropical Home respects the importance of water in our community
Water features can create habitats for native wildlife.
• Water needs to be kept flowing to discourage mosquito breeding.
• Protect water by surrounding with thick foliage that is difficult for cane toads to pass through.
Irrigation is minimised.
• Plant a water wise garden that does not need irrigating.
• Select native plants that are drought tolerant or plants from ecologically similar regions.
• Use irrigation controllers that water plants according to their needs, soil moisture and weather.
• Use drip irrigation for vegetables, shrubs, trees and wherever possible.
Large paved areas minimised
Driveway wheel tracks in concrete with infiltration
pavers in the centre and either side
Shady areas developed
around house
Planting directs desirable
breezes into home
Evaporative cooling
by Green Curtains
on upper deck
area developed
using trellis
Yurrah Pty Ltd
The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation
Areas surrounding the home are planned to be climate responsive.
• Locate any large paved areas away from windows and doors to avoid hot air entering the house in summer.
• Minimise large unshaded paved areas.
• Develop shaded areas using trees, trellises, pergolas etc to help cool the air around the house.
• Use spray mist (water from rainwater tank) in gardens around home for evaporative cooling
• Plant sheltering trees to west and south for shade and to reduce the effects of the south to south west winds in winter and
protect from summer storms.
• Arrange planting to direct desirable breezes into the home.
Habitat Rooms revegetated natural
Outdoor Living Room: relaxing,
chatting, etc
Underneath House: undefined
Pathways around the home
Edible Rooms: fruit trees,
shrubs and bushtucker
Outdoor Living
Garden rooms
Yurrah Pty Ltd
The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation
The lush surrounds are designed for sensuality.
• Select plant species that will contribute to the subtropical soundscape by attracting native birds and insects, moving in the
breeze and breaking the fall of the rain.
• Select fragrant vegetation that complements the indoor/outdoor lifestyle.
• Plant vegetables, herbs and fruit that will be a delight to eat in season.
• Plant bush tucker that will extend the experience of subtropical eating.
Planting to increase biodiversity and provide habitats for native wildlife.
• Use local species that provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and marsupials.
• Use low growing native plants that attract lizards.
• Leave fallen logs for habitats if possible.
• Keep pets indoors at night and attach bells to cat’s collars.
Dry creek bed feature to act as
overland flowpath to be planted
out with macrophytes
Food production
Existing vegetation retained
Yurrah Pty Ltd
David & Kay Heaton
Vege garden image
The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation
Soil is conserved and protected from the torrential rain and dry periods.
• Retain existing vegetation.
• Perform earth works in the dry season.
• Use hay bales or similar silt trap technique to control erosion and run off.
• Terrace steep slopes.
• Mulch regularly.
• Use compost to improve soil structure, aeration, water holding capacity and nutrients.
Food producing landscapes are very productive in our climate.
• Plant climbing beans, eggplant, corn, tomatoes, lettuce, rockmelon, watermelon, shallots, cucumber, radish, squash, zuccini in
• Rest… in summer (January & February).
• Plant beans, beetroot, brocoli, capsicum, celery, Chinese veges, tomatoes, lettuce, shallots, potatoes, peas, parsnips, radish,
rhubarb, silverbeet, spinach, turnips in autumn.
• Plant beans, beetroot, brocoli, carrots, capsicum, celery, Chinese veges, tomatoes, lettuce, shallots, potatoes, radish, silverbeet,
spinach in winter.
• Use passionfruit vines to shade pergolas,...
John Oxley Library
Brisbane City Council Brisbane City Council
The Subtropical Home benefits from vegetation
Distinctly Queensland gardens may use the character of past gardens as a stepping off point to create
gardens for the future.
• Capture the wild, unkempt, casual nature of parts of the traditional garden.
• Consider the planting of large distinctive trees .
• Develop front garden in a practical, simple and charming way.
• Plant to form outdoor garden rooms.
• Plant to frame views and vistas.
• Integrate shade houses and ferneries.
• Consider formal flower beds and decorative rockeries and garden ornaments integrated with tropical plants.
• Use native species to create rainforest and bush gardens.
• Maintain a food producing garden.
• Select subtropical fruit trees.
Salvaged materials in the landscape reflect the subtropical character and history of the local area.
• Let the materials inspire the form and detail of the garden.
• Identify and collect the materials early so that they may be integrated in the design.
• Find materials with interesting stories and significance.
• Reuse materials from the site.