Can luxury homes really be sustainable? Really?

We at Arco Designs say YES.

After designing award winning eco homes for many years including 35 homes in The Currumbin Ecovillage we have started to attract people wanting larger homes and people wanting a bit more Luxury or something that doesn’t “look” eco but has all benefits of a sustainably designed house.

At first I wrestled with the concept of designing luxury homes thinking that they are wasteful.  But let’s face it, some people need larger homes and some people have worked hard and want a few of the comforts a luxury home can provide.

If people are going to build luxury homes – if they come to us at least they will be sustainable !

And if you look into the science of it – if the large home is designed badly (like most of them are), they are going to use 5 – 10 times the electricity that a well designed luxury home will.  Most of our clients have a zero electricity bill or even get money back.  This means we will save the planet about 5 homes worth of electricity per year.

So really our talents are possibly better spent designing large luxury homes that use less resources, than spending our time doing small sustainable homes and preaching to the converted.

So how do you make a large home sustainable I hear you ask ?

Firstly you need to rationalise the size of the home – we ask our clients, do they really need that media room ?  Or could that room be a multi purpose room ?  Does every bedroom need to be huge ?  Do they really need to be ensuited ? Perhaps they could have a share bathroom between 2 bedrooms.

If the answer is yes they do need those large rooms, then the best option is to make sure those rooms are well designed.

1/. Make sure they have good crossflow ventilation ie make sure that there are good openable windows / doors on at least 2 walls.

2/. Make sure they are functional ie they don’t have traffic corridors splitting the room in half and designed so that they can be furnished adequately.

3/. Make sure the windows are orientated correctly. Best orientation for most rooms is towards north.  You can’t get all rooms to face that way usually but some rooms can face other directions without much harm if done well.

4/. Make sure the windows are protected with cover that keeps the summer sun out while letting the winter sun in.  Shade screens and blinds can also help this.

5/. Make sure all rooms are well lit – naturally…

6/. Incorporate thermal mass where practical. ie a concrete slab or tiles preferably a dark colour to soak up the day time winter sun and releases it at night.  Or you could use a Rammed earth wall or off form concrete wall as a feature.  I have designed these into several of our homes, not just the luxury ones either.

7/. Use non – toxic materials throughout

8/. Make sure the main rooms for the house are fully accessible for people with limited mobility or for future mobility issues.

You never know who’s going to need a knee op or hip relacement…

The next obvious choice to making a large luxury home sustainable is the selection of materials.

We try to use long lasting materials in the right places, non toxic materials and low embodied energy materials.  Long lasting materials might be copper or zinc cladding. Most people don’t associate copper with being very sustainable, but it has a lot of great points: It’s wafer thin so it goes a long way for little material use.  It never, I repeat, never needs painting or maintenance.  It lasts forever. And if the owner wants to get rid of it (for some crazy reason ) it’s totally recyclable ! ?How many materials can you say that about ?

So when designing a luxury home on the gold coast, lets put a bit of extra thought into so you can reap the benefits of a naturally comfortable, great looking home design, one that you can be truly proud of and one the future generations will be too.

Designing Homes for Steep Sites

So you want to live on the side of a hill?  Maybe it’s for the ocean views, maybe it’s for the breezes or maybe it’s so you can be king of the castle. Whatever the reason, the decision and all facets that come after it should not be taken lightly. As all the flat blocks are getting used up on there’s a lot of steep land on the Gold Coast especially around the areas of Currumbin, Currumbin Valley, Burleigh Heads, Tugun and Coolangatta.

There’s quite a lot involved from the initial design to the eventual house warming party, ie extra council requirements and height limits, soil stability issues, driveway and council crossover issues, extra expenses, excavation, potential rock or boulders, trees, stepped floor levels, stairs, possible lifts, retaining walls and the list goes on. Sounds like fun hey!

There’s a few steps that need to be taken care of first, before any lines are drawn to ensure a smooth design process for your steep block:

1/. You need a Site Stability Report. Some sites are unstable and will not support a house at all. Don’t laugh, I have had a client come to me after purchasing his land, we suggested he get a stability test as the site was so steep and looked moist, it turned out he couldn’t build a house on it, landslip area, you can imagine what happened after that…

2/. Next, a Contour Survey – no quality building designer or architect will start designing without a good contour survey from a licensed surveyor. The designer needs to study the land thoroughly. This is usually organised by the architect / building designer.

3/. If you haven’t done so already, choose your House Designer. Not just any old Drafty or Architect, but someone with a proven track record of designing buildings on steep sites.  Also refer our free guide re choosing a designer available on our website.

4/. Next, the Designer MUST visit the site to get a good feel for the land. They may spend a few hours there and will often start sketching on site. They take photos and also film the land so they can refer back to it during the design process at the office. It’s good to study where the best views are but also any obstructions and services, driveways, gullies, natural attributes and they need to allow for the neighbours and your privacy.

5/. Once all the information is gathered about the site and councils legal requirements the contour survey is converted to CAD format and then they should make a 3D model replica of the land. (See 3D image).  Building Designers have their own methods and processes. I am merely describing what I feel is a good base process to start with.  Check your chosen designer has 3D capability.  In this day and age if they don’t have 3D then you are missing out on awesome technology advantages and you must ask yourself and the designer why?

Then the designer will copy this land model and place it above at the relevant council’s height restriction, this helps with making sure that they know exactly when they’ve hit the mark that may trip extra council approvals and relaxations i.e. Impact Assessment, which can be expensive.

Of course you can push the design as hard as you like within reason and going Impact Assessment isn’t as hard as some people make out. If you are pushing the boundaries and council restrictions then the DA presentation needs to be top shelf with proper renderings.

6/. Going back a few steps – several cross sections through the site need to be drawn to study it and understand it further (minimum 3 – 4). This helps avoid expensive retaining walls and excavations or other hidden surprises.  Once you know exactly what the land is doing its time to start sketching. Of course you have already given your brief to the designer by this time and they know exactly what you want to achieve on the site.

You or the designer need to draw council setbacks from the boundary, the driveway slope if there is an existing driveway and some approximate floor heights.  ie maybe a set of lines 3m apart showing possible floor levels.

7/. It helps to locate the garage first. Sometimes a site screams out for the garage to be in a certain position, but an intuitive designer will step back and think again. This happened with our recent award winner “Curves”. The obvious place for the garage was right in front of the council crossover. But there was a lack of street side parking and there was a small flat area for the garage on the south side of the block. So it turned out that we created a longer driveway running across the block (more parking space) and placed the pool where the garage was going to go.

This informed the rest of the design and the first of 3 curves, the curved concrete swimming pool with glass edge. The rest is history, and we now have very happy clients (see testimonial below) an Award, a very happy builder and an individual affordable house that all involved are proud of.

“We recently purchased a unique property on the Gold Coast. In order for this property to fulfil its true potential requires the vision and creativity of Will Collins. Will was easily able to take our ideas from an initial meeting and in no time deliver the home from our imaginations into working drawings. Will was the perfect blend of visionary and professional to give our ideas some life. We are not the only ones who think Will Collins is the best at what he does, our new home received the prestigious BDAQ Gold Coast Renovation of 2015. Will has designed our family the perfect home!”

If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design

Dr. Ralf Speth, Jaguar CEO, was the one who said the sentence above. Unfortunately, one of the most common mistakes that someone who’s thinking about building or renovating can make is price design as a measurable matter.

First of all, comparing ‘apples with apples’ can be quite a challenging task when talking about building design. Initially, because you have to make sure that all design professionals are quoting the same services, and this may include a number of hand sketches, 3D models, renderings, a number of sections and details, council approvals, consultants, site visits, client meetings, etc. Second, because the quality of a design may be related with the amount of time, money and dedication that each professional donates to keep up to date with courses, study and research. Third, experience counts, very much! Finally, nothing substitutes creative talent, and you have to make sure that you identify yourself with that designer’s style and taste.  Also a good designer will be able to design to your taste not just their own.

Thinking about the final cost of a house, for example, the design fees usually vary from 4 to 8% of construction cost. Too much?  No, and I’ll explain why.  If you were building an $800,000 house, the design would cost between 32K and 64K. This includes not only the (many) hours that the designer will dedicate to your project from meetings to time spent hand sketching or 3D modelling and detailing, but also all the time spent studying, researching, his/her experience (this is so valuable!), and creativity. These are ways of making sure that not only common mistakes that can cost a lot are avoided, but also that every dollar invested on that building will construct a space with quality, style, healthy, beautiful, functional, adequate to your needs, attending to the local regulations, and a UNIQUE HOME DESIGN.

If you were having to get surgery, would you look for an average doctor with an ordinary reputation, or would you look for someone in who you would trust completely, highly referred, even if this doctor would cost you a couple of extra thousand dollars? I’m sure no one wants to put their health at risk for that. So why do some people think that ‘saving’ 10% on the design costs is going to lead to a better result in the end?  Definitely not!  The old saying rings true “you get what you pay for”.  Building a house is often the biggest expense of your life, you can choose a mediocre designer or a really good designer.  It’s like building on bad footings, it’s all about preparation.

The costs of a bad design can go much further than living in a room that is too small, too large, or almost impossible to furnish. Changes happening during the building process are very expensive and stressful, and can cost far more if you have to make them after you have already moved in. Renovations can become a disaster if not well planned. Usually, these extra expenses triggered by a bad design are MUCH MORE expensive than the fees of that good building designer / architect you rejected due to price in the beginning of the process…

Furthermore, design plays a direct role on human health, both physically and psychologically. A space with the poor orientation and wrong openings can become too cold, too hot, too dark, have bad ventilation, etc. These issues are not only directly related to several health problems, but are also commonly the cause of extra costs with electricity in the long term through the excessive use of artificial lighting, air conditioning, artificial ventilation, and heating.

Under a psychological point of view, design can strongly influence human performance and behaviour. The position of a working bench in the kitchen or in the home office, for example, can trigger stress response from the most primitive part of our brain, the limbic system. Why? Because our survival instincts are very active and still work on a pretty primitive mode. This means that if your working bench is located in a way that your back will be facing the entry door, for example, you are more likely to not be able to relax, as your brain will keep you alert, in case something attacks you from behind.

A very low ceiling or a specific colour can cause a negative response for some and positive for others. Here is the importance of assessing each client individually, creating a personalised, quality and unique design for each one.

If you are not convinced yet, just think that a bad design costs a minimum of three times more than a good one. The first time is paying for building it. The second (and worst, in my opinion), is living in a space without quality – who wants to do that? Finally, if you can’t stand living in that space anymore, you have to pay again for renovating it. The consequences of a bad design are not related to just the building time, but they extend through all the use of that building, that means that you still paying the price for many, many years.

Most of all, it is important is to remember that all of our life is lived somewhere (preferably on the Gold Coast :). There’s no story without a scenario, every experience has a background, and every memory comes with a setting picture. We develop attachments to places and signify them, this is part of the human nature. Think about the importance of living in a healthy, beautiful, pleasant and special home that you love being in. Now, think again about the price of that good building designer… I’m sure you’ll see it with new eyes!

Tags: good design x bad designdesigners feesbuilding designers feeshome design fees

The Era of Experience

Have you noticed how deeply the space you’re at right at this moment is impacting you? No? So I invite you to stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath, open your eyes again, and start looking around paying attention to every aspect that may be having an influence on you. Is the light bright or soft, yellow or white? What’s the sound like? Can you smell anything? If so, is it pleasant or not? What position are you at now? If seated, what’s the feeling of the fabric of your seat against your skin?

These are only a few of the many factors that can (and will) affect the impressions that we have from a place. This means that the EXPERIENCES we have about a space are closely connected with how this space is DESIGNED.

The way we perceive the space is a complex process that happens to a part of the brain called  Parahippocampal Place Area. It’s a complex process, but the most interesting thing about it is that our response to this perception is so strong that it can make us heal faster, be more productive at work, spend more time in a shop, learn better, or even improve our immune system.

These issues are so important they are leading to a design revolution, a new way of thinking about buildings. More than having the right apertures or a minimum floor area, the QUALITY of the space is proving to be what matters the most!

You must be thinking: so, what can we do to have better EXPERIENCES in a built space? First of all, if you are thinking about designing, building or renovating your house, office, shop, restaurant, etc., you should look for a good and tuned in qualified building designer. This is (no doubt) the first step towards a good or great result.

Ok, but you want to know WHAT are these aspects that can have such a strong effect on us are right? So here we go…

– NATURE: Yes, greenery is the most important factor to make us happy, calm, de-stressed and healthy. Why? Because despite of living urban lives surrounded by sophisticated machines, our body is still connected to our primitive self, where being in nature had meanings of safety, food, shelter, and connection;

– SENSE OF DAY LIGHT: being aware of what time of the day it is, what season of the year, and even how the weather is outside provides a sense of awe to us. This makes us feel safer and grounded, thus happier and healthier;

– DESIGN FOR THE SENSES: we commonly see design caring mainly (or only) about the visual senses. That’s a huge mistake. As we move, our body sees, smells, touches, hears and even tastes within a space, and this is what brings LIFE to design!

Aspects like Social Interaction, Territoriality and Personal Space also have a direct relation with design.  An example of this is how the furniture arrangement can influence people’s behaviour.

A lot isn’t it? We agree! But fascinating as well! The power of design on a persons feelings can deliver amazing experiences when used well. Memories about a place that made you feel amazed are unforgettable, and you’ll carry this for the rest of your life. At the same time, if you have spent years working in a claustrophobic office with no windows and not even a single plant – that has has caused you some harm

Having this in mind, now you know how IMPORTANT it is for you to have the right orientation when building or renovating your house. At the end of the day, you’re designing a place where EXPERIENCES will be lived!

Brazilian Contemporary Architecture

The architecture of a country is deeply linked with its history and heritage. Brazil is a nation with more than 500 years of history, with a very rich culture and architecture, both defined by a big mix of the existing indigenous ethos and the several countries’ background that migrated to this beautiful country. Buildings become part of a nation’s history, they tell a story about their habits, uses, social organisation and evolution, revealing a lot about a country’s character.

The present contemporary Brazilian architecture is an advancement (or perhaps a celebration) of the modernist approach that had a very significant value to that country’s architectural history. The modernist style was adopted after World War Two, and was characterized by minimalism, absence of excess in decoration, and functional forms. In Brazil, some particular strains of this movement were the brutalism (use of raw materials), open plans, and the use of stilts.

Some of the main representative names of the Brazilian Modernist architecture are Oscar Niemeyer, Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Ruy Ohtake, Jaime Lerner and Lina Bo Bardi. We can see a few examples of this style bellow:MASP – Museum of Modernist Art, Sao Paulo, by Lina Bo BardiMASP – Museum of Modernist Art, Sao Paulo, by Lina Bo Bardi

MASP – Museum of Modernist Art, Sao Paulo, by Lina Bo Bardi

Residence, Sao Paulo, by Ruy Ohtake

The current contemporary architecture style started between 1980 and 1990, and brings a lot of the modernist impressions within its concepts. It has in its impressions, the back of projective languages strongly committed to the reintegration of rationalism and minimalism, added to environmental and sustainability issues.

There is not a rigid style or striking feature to the contemporary Brazilian architecture as we could perceive in the modernist style. What happens now is a plurality, diversity and aggregation of elements and techniques, sharing influences from the Minimalism, the High Tech, the de-constructivism, and Modernism itself.

All this depth and complexity provided the Brazilian architecture with a very unique, distinct and recognizable character and style. The examples created from the modernist period until nowadays have a pretty distinct style, presenting a strong and elegant trace, mastering the wide open spans and the integration between inside and outside spaces.

Piracicaba House, by Isay Weinfeld

We can definitely see some similarities between their production, such as the big open plans merging the limits between interior and exterior, the lightness of the trace and the horizontal volumes. The extended use of exposed concrete is an evident heritage from modernism, as well as the use of stilts and the large cantilevered structures.

An interesting aspect that many of these professionals are valuing is the rescue of traditional authentic Brazilian techniques and materials. Some examples are the beautiful panels of tangled natural fibres extensively used by Jacobsen and Kogan, as well as the traditional local timber manufacturing methods used by Weinfeld and Jacobsen. These elements provide a distinctive and unreplaceable personality to these buildings, connecting them to their site, local culture and intrinsic history.

Even with interior design projects these local elements and features are broadly used, as we can see on the examples bellow:

Residence in Paraty, by Marcio Kogan

Toblerone House, Sao Paulo, by Marcio Kogan

Piracicaba House, by Isay Weinfeld

We can definitely see some similarities between their production, such as the big open plans merging the limits between interior and exterior, the lightness of the trace and the horizontal volumes. The extended use of exposed concrete is an evident heritage from modernism, as well as the use of stilts and the large cantilevered structures.

An interesting aspect that many of these professionals are valuing is the rescue of traditional authentic Brazilian techniques and materials. Some examples are the beautiful panels of tangled natural fibres extensively used by Jacobsen and Kogan, as well as the traditional local timber manufacturing methods used by Weinfeld and Jacobsen. These elements provide a distinctive and unreplaceable personality to these buildings, connecting them to their site, local culture and intrinsic history.

Even with interior design projects these local elements and features are broadly used, as we can see on the examples bellow:

House in Sao Sebastiao, By Marcio Kogan

In sum, the architecture produced nowadays in Brazil uses the past as a source, not denying, but celebrating. It also experiments and creates new trends and solutions. This multifaceted feature of architecture encompasses socioeconomic and sustainability criteria, showing the evolution of the way people are living and experiencing spaces.

Here at ARCO Designs on the Gold Coast we celebrate the multiculturalism and plurality of Australia having two Brazilian architects bringing some of this iconic inspiration to our projects. There are many similarities between our climates so it makes sense that we would incorporate many design features from Brazilian Architecture into our New Homes and renovation designs on the Gold Coast. Check out our website and see if you can recognise some of the elements we have discussed above in our projects!-

Warm House, Cool House – Passive House Design on the Gold Coast

A home’s comfort isn’t just reliant on the design of the spaces or the furniture – temperature control plays a huge part. After all, no-one will be happy with a house that swelters in the summer and freezes in the winter!

Luckily, designing your home so that it is comfortable all year round isn’t a complicated process. There are plenty of basic principles you can implement to ensure you’re not shivering in July or sweating in January. We are blessed to live in the Gold Coast with a easy to live with climate but to make the most of it best to design your house well!

1. Sunshine and ventilation

It’s an obvious one, but you’d be surprised how many homes don’t take full advantage of sunlight. In order to ensure you do, your home should feature large window openings that face north. These window openings should give way to a concrete floor, dark tiles or dark-coloured carpet/rug, which will soak up the sun during the day and release the heat at night. Afternoon sun will be the most beneficial as this heat will be retained well past sunset.

These large windows to the north will also assist in cooling down your home come summer. Create a cross-flow by installing smaller openings facing south, allowing fresh air to permeate throughout every part of your home.

Louvres and double hungs are the most effective windows, while bi-fold doors or large stacking sliders are great design options for your doors, providing flexibility and versatility, and providing that most sort after inside / outside flow.

2. Insulation

Insulation is an essential part of any home’s design. Your roof (including your deck or balcony) should have batts – or a similar material – to at least R3.5, with no gaps. You’ll also need a R.15 insulation blanket laid directly under the roof sheeting.

Your walls should also be insulated to R2.5, along with double-sided reflective sarking on the outside of the timber frame.

If you have a subfloor, it’s also worth considering insulating this so that the floor won’t feel so cold in the winter or hot in the summer. There are a number of ways to do this so it is worth discussing with your builder or architect.

3. Window coverings

Glass may appear to create a greenhouse effect, but it is actually quite a thin material that lets the cold in. Tight-fitting curtains or blinds are a great way around this, maintaining warmth in winter while cooling the house down in summer. Double-thickness blinds and curtains can also act like double-glazing, providing yet another barrier to the weather outside. The versatility of these materials ensure you’re comfortable all year round.

4. Glass types

If you live in an area that suffers from very hot summers or very cold winters (like the Gold Coast), consider using Low E (Low Emissivity) glass. This special type of glass helps to insulate your home and is a great alternative to double glazing.

5. Thermal mass

Thermal mass is a broad term for dense materials such as concrete floors and walls, rammed earth walls and brick or stone walls. When it comes to temperature control, thermal mass features work best when inside the house. They provide an additional barrier to the outside world, maintaining the cold in the summer and preserving the heat in the winter.

6. Balcony location

Queensland’s sub-tropical climate means most decks or patios require a roof to protect from the rain and harsh sun. If you add a balcony to the north, said roof automatically blocks the sun entering your home which is fine in summer, but a disaster in winter.

As such, the ideal location of a balcony or deck is to the east or west. This blocks the harsh summer sun from entering your living areas and leaves space for exposed windows facing north to welcome in the sun.

7. Eaves

Eaves should be calculated to get the right balance for year-round living. Your architect or builder will need to know the angles of the sun at various times of year and the orientation of your house to calculate the height of the eaves and window heights. A general rule of thumb is 900mm-wide eaves, but it’s not always enough.

If you get it right, you will block the summer sun out, only allowing winter sun, early spring and late autumn sun to penetrate the house.

8. Ponds and Planting

(If within remit, – not sure about this wording) installing a pond near a home’s openings is a fantastic option. Air flowing over the top of a pond and into the house can cool it by several degrees. They are best located on the south side in the shade but if placed to the north, they should have sufficient plants to shade the pond and prevent it going green.

Planting can also be used selectively to shade the house. Trees that shed their leaves in winter are best, meaning you have shade in summer but no blockages in winter. The cyclical nature of vines means they are also a good option.

A well-insulated home will mean year-long comfort, reduced energy bills and in some cases, an increased resale value. Therefore, it’s essential to get it right! Make sure you discuss this element of home design with your building designer, architect or builder before finalising plans.

Award Winning Home on the Gold Coast No.3

Here’s our 3rd article of our series of ARCO’s Award Winning house designs.

PROBLEM: Located at the bottom of a very steep hill, virtually no flat land. A 6m setback that used up all the flat land.  Severely restricted street parking.

SOLUTION: We designed the driveway to cross the land reducing the gradient while at the same time adding driveway length providing more off street parking.

The owners wanted a small pool, so we managed to get a relaxation to have that in the front 6m.  Fortunately council allowed common sense and we designed a pool with a curved face that fitted neatly in the space left over by the driveway.  We added a glass edge so it didn’t look like a water tank and the rest of house followed suit.  We added a curve to the suspended concrete balcony and a curve to the parapet above which we lined with copper to help fit with the bush environment.

The dining and kitchen are facing north, the living room to the south captures northern sunlight through a highlight window.  The roof over the balcony shelters the western sun from entering the living areas in summer.

We designed into the house a natural palette of materials including stone work around the fireplace, off form concrete, spotted gum panelling on the inside and shiplap cladding on the outside, copper lining on the parapet.

This house design on the Gold Coast so impressed the owners that they were happy to appear in one of Testimonial video’s that appear on our home page

To see more about this house, click on