Melbourne architecture firm ArchiBlox, the brainchild of Alumnus Bill McCorkell, pictured (BPD, 1993 and BArch (Hons), 1996) and builder David Martin, have taken sustainability innovation to the next level by creating what’s said to be the first ever carbon positive prefabricated house.
The Archi+ Carbon Positive House, which went on display at City Square in Melbourne in February as part of The New Joneses and the Sustainable Living Festival, has now been moved to David’s property in Cape Patterson, where its energy usage and expenditure can be formally assessed over a period of twenty four months. The prototype is so unique, it is the first new-build standing home in Australia to receive a platinum rating by the life-cycle assessment company eTool, and it was recently featured in The Financial Times. The house itself is a lesson in creatively responding to the problem of carbon emissions in the construction of a standard home. And it teaches its lesson beautifully.
Designed to open to the north with floor-toceiling windows, the home contains edible garden walls, a sunroom which spans the length of the building, an insulating grass roof, as well as in-ground cool tubes which create cross-flow ventilation by pulling air in from the floor on the south side and emitting it through the north-facing windows.
The living spaces have been organised to be as compact as possible yet with full height openings, allowing a free-flowing space. Roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) panels maximise solar power, and rainwater recycling completes the beautifully-sustainable package.
The project has put ArchiBlox on the map for well-designed sustainable houses, exactly the niche they aimed to fill when the two founded the company.
“David and I met eight to ten years ago on a project in Inverloch,” says Bill, “we got along really well, we had similar aspirations and ideals, we both saw a void in the marketplace for well-designed architecturally-sustainable homes – and that’s where the business kicked off from there.”
Bill is passionate about the possibilities in the intersection of architecture with other industries. Prior to founding ArchiBlox , he was Director of Melbourne architecture and interior design firm Techne, and also ran a side business importing eco-friendly LED lighting.
“I love looking at innovation within our industry but also the opportunities outside our industry which touch us. So that can include industries like lighting, or prefabrication, or many other areas. They all present an opportunity for innovation in our architectural work.”
But for Bill, innovation on a functional level shouldn’t come at the cost of form.
“One of the biggest takeaways I had from my time at University was spatial arrangement and how different architectural elements can trigger certain emotions. I still remember one of my lecturers talking about how you feel when you go for an interview at a big office building and it’s a marble-clad massive void, which makes you feel belittled before you’ve even shaken someone’s hand. So for me it’s also about that whole psychology of how a space can make you feel.”
“From a personal perspective, when you do walk into a house that’s sustainable and its giving off very low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), so there’s no formaldehyde or chemical releases, you feel good. You feel physically a lot cleaner and better. With our houses, after they’ve been dormant for a few days or weeks, if it’s a hot day they still feel warm, and if it’s cool they feel cool.
”It’s no surprise that Bill is a lateral-thinker in the construction and design field – it’s in the McCorkell blood. His grandfather created the first steel-roll window system in Australia and founded McCorkell constructions (which his brother now runs), his uncle was president of Master Builders Australia, and his father, the late Howard McCorkell (BArch 1964), also a University of Melbourne Alumnus, was involved in some of the first cluster housing projects in Australia, through Merchant Builders Pty Ltd.
Merchant Builders, founded in the early 1960s, broke new ground by putting landscape considerations on equal footing with architectural design and the quality of the materials used.
“Dad won a Melbourne University scholarship at the end of his architectural degree to study cluster housing in the United States, and that lead to his being involved with Merchant Builders back in Melbourne through David Yencken – who was then Dean of the Faculty and Merchant Builders co-founder.”
It’s hard to believe now, but the basic tenet of cluster housing – building groups of houses to maximise green space, and privacy for residents – was considered revolutionary in its time.
Winter Park, one of the first cluster-housing projects in Victoria, which Harold worked on, now features on the Heritage Victoria list for being of ‘’architectural, social, historic and aesthetic significance to Victoria’’.
Built in Doncaster in 1971, Winter Park comprised 20 low-profile, architectdesigned houses constructed mostly from recycled brick, and oriented for maximum light and solar gain. Offering a private, visually-enticing shift from the banal urban landscape of suburbia, it was a project which shifted the focus from ease for the builder to enjoyment for the inhabitant.
Four decades later, it still sets the benchmark for town planners.
Archi+ Carbon Positive House aims to set a similar precedent, and become the prototype for low-footprint construction innovation.
“I believe dad found a niche in the marketplace with Merchant Builders – architecturally-designed houses that you could buy off the plan. And there’s quite a synergy with ArchiBlox. Our addition is that our homes are prefabricated, but the principles are the same.”
Bill places innovation up there as one of the founding principles of his business.
“One of our core values is ‘innovation is inspiration’. So we constantly strive to find a better way to inspire both our lives and the lives of others. So innovation in my business is fundamental in not only giving us direction, but also everyone that works with us – a drive and a mission to create.”