Bill McCorkell - Build Small, Design Big
Since August, Tesla has created a huge buzz in Australia with its Tesla Tiny House, a 100% self-powered house (towed by its very own Model X) that even Elon Musk himself wants one. While much attention goes to the solar panels and the Powerwall installed on the exterior, the prefabricated structure itself, covered with sustainable timber, is also quite eye-catching. This futuristic home with a natural twist is, in fact, a collaborative project with Australian architecture firm Archiblox – one of our Sustainia Award finalists in 2015 for designing the world’s first carbon positive prefabricated house.
Archiblox’s Carbon Positive House (CPH) goes beyond just “carbon-neutral,” producing more energy on-site than the house requires. This is made possible with the use of green technologies such as in-ground cool tubes for cooling, green roofs for insulation, and sliding garden walls for blocking sunlight.
To further cut resource and energy use, the architecture firm goes against the “McMansions” trend in Australia, keeping the overall size of its houses to a minimum. But this does not mean the functionality of the house is compromised – as Bill McCorkell, founder of Archiblox, believes in “designing big rather than building big,” creating spaces that can be used for more than one purpose, and can be enjoyed by more than one generation.
As the Tiny Tesla House road trip concluded, I had a chat with Bill about the potential of prefab as a solution for a more sustainable built environment:
What inspired you to start Archiblox?
My father built one of the first houses in Melbourne with solar hot water panels on the roof, and was also one of the first employees of Merchant Builders in Australia, so it wasn’t a stretch that I would develop a passion for sustainability from a young age. After spending a childhood on building sites and an early career in design and architecture, I decided to forge my own path of innovation and building sustainability by establishing Archiblox, bringing together my skills as an architect and a builder to create pleasing spaces for all to enjoy.
Archiblox presented the world’s first carbon positive prefabricated house in 2015. What was the initial reception, and how has it changed since then?
The global success of the Carbon Positive House allowed us to educate an audience who otherwise would not see how a home like this is possible and the benefits of such a home for the environment and for their pocket. We have gathered many learnings since the Carbon Positive House inception, and one of our biggest learning was the importance of education, especially when Australians are building bigger homes with larger ecological footprint.
What was the biggest challenge in making prefabs carbon-positive?
Creating the thermal mass needed for the building. As we use lightweight construction materials to reduce the overall weight of the building, thermal mass is very difficult to achieve. This is mitigated through the incorporation of ideas from the Passive House concept and other energy storage methods.
What are the three most important elements you see in a sustainable home? How has Archiblox incorporated these elements in your houses?
Life-cycle assessment: We have to understand where the products that are incorporated within our houses come from, why they are used and how they are to perform.
Passive solar design: This is pretty basic for architects. Down below in the southern hemisphere, north is where the energy comes from and where the building needs to point.
Educating the occupants: Without the occupant’s interaction, no building will perform to its optimum. Our handover packs that come with the completion of our houses describe the opportunities the occupants have to interact with the house, and to make the most of the building’s performance, such as minimizing/maximizing solar access.
The general rule is to keep it simple!
Buildings take up about 40% of the world’s energy consumption and ⅓ GHG emissions. How can prefabs help create a more sustainable built environment?
Unlike onsite construction, building off-site avoids damaging the property and its natural surroundings with many trades having to come on and off the site. Prefabrication also allows us to design with considerations for material sizes and dimensions, so as to maximize product usage and minimize material wastage.
With 7 billion people and counting on our planet (and we all need to live somewhere), we have to embrace every opportunity to minimize our footprint – prefabs can help us build small yet live large!
Modular buildings are one of the upcoming circular investment trends. Is now the time for prefabs to go mainstream?
Prefab is becoming more of an accepted form of building procurement, particularly when one considers the speed-to-market. Compared to structures built onsite, prefabs can be created in a shorter time frame with less disruption to the environment, saving costs and resources. (At Archiblox we create prefabricated buildings from concept and design through to manufacture and installation in as little as 8 weeks!)
From designing buildings to designing cities, how can architects contribute to urban sustainability?
As builders and designers we shape people’s lives through design. Through designing buildings, we create communities, redefine domestic spatial concepts, and foster connections between people and the natural landscape. This will go a long way to create compact, sustainable cities that we can all thrive within.
Full article can be found on the Sustainia website.