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What is a super house?

October 25, 2015

Luke Mahony

In world where the usability of the latest mobile Phone is more important than the usability of our houses, it was refreshing to read the following article. ‘The Australian’ newspaper’s Christopher Allen refers to the current exhibition in Sydney in his article: Superhouse exhibition takes architecture beyond the McMansion.  It’s hard not to admire some of the amazing houses in what is arguably the most decadent art form. I especially liked the Pierre house.

Chris had this to say in summary. “The project of the so-called superhouse is thus implicitly counter-cultural. In a world preoccupied with materialism and the tokens of success, with fashion and opinionated chatter, with the addiction to mass media noise and superficial arousal of every kind, it proposes silence, peace and serenity.”

“It would be interesting to follow this exhibition with another on houses that achieve simplicity of design, sympathetic relations to their setting and openness to nature on a minimal budget. It must be possible to design something beautiful and harmonious without massive amounts of reinforced concrete and complex feats of engineering. It would be fascinating to see what can be done with recycled timber, mud bricks or even rendered Besser bricks, corrugated iron and other vernacular materials.”

“Sliding or removable walls, or heavy walls of materials such as rammed earth to provide insulation — depending of the orientation of the house — and much higher ceilings than in standard suburban houses to allow heat to rise and escape through clerestory windows, would all be relatively inexpensive ways to cope with the Australian environment without resorting to airconditioning, which is surely incompatible with true architectural ambition.”

Long live the artist who can create good form AND function. See the full article here.

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Energy-Saving Design: Investigation of the Thermal Performance of Rammed Earth Residential Buildings

October 20, 2015

Luke Mahony

Prelim-pageEarth Dwellings Australia, with the the University of Western Australia and the Department of Housing are investigating the ACTUAL performance of rammed earth houses. “Numerical and experimental investigations available in the literature show contradictory results. Factors such as hydroscopic behaviour, that is the ability of the wall to control indoor humidity, and how the house is used by residents are not adequately treated in current decision frameworks and policies. ”

Two identical houses have been built in Kalgoolie, both are rammed earth except one has insulated panels inside the rammed earth. There are sensors placed throughout the houses and walls measuring temperature and relative humidity. There is now a website showing details of the project and preliminary results. The aim is to measure the thermal performance of occupied rammed earth houses.

wpid-20150428_090910.jpgThe preliminary results make very interesting reading. “Although insulation is effective at separating the inner and outer parts of the walls, comparing results for the monolithic and insulated houses shows something quite unexpected. There is no real difference between the room or ceiling temperatures in both houses. Both houses show a roughly steady internal temperature of around 20 to 25 degrees even when subjected to a sudden cold snap which occured on the 15 November 2014. Although the temperatures in the walls dropped, this heat was successfully transferred in to the house so internal air temperatures remained largely unchanged. Some questions therefore need to be asked about how these houses perform, specifically why the inclusion of insulation does not affect air temperatures inside the house. A possible explanation might be that the non-rammed earth part of the houses’ envelopes around the kitchen, bathroom and the roof, are ultimately controlling internal temperature. Another might be that thermal bridges in the insulated rammed earth walls where the insulation was not present, for example around windows, allowed heat to bypass the insulation entirely. These questions are being investigated as part of the ongoing project.”

More information can be found at this link.

Wall street Journal – Rammed Earth Luxury Homes

October 13, 2015

Luke Mahony

I love it how an ancient, common building method has become popular and a luxury item. Hopefully some of the one third of the worlds population living in earth houses read this article or watch this video below, they may want to stay in their earth houses instead of moving into ‘modern’ inefficient cultural-less boxes.