Designed by Peter Poulet and Michael Harvey of the NSW Government Architect’s Office (GAO), the Concrete House celebrates concrete as an honest and robust material.
The design utilises readily-available components to create a solid mass of curvilinear concrete shells on the south side of the house and curtain-like enclosures to the north side that open up for ventilation and light.
In the tradition of the ‘pavilion’, the house interfaces with the surrounding landscape: the relationship between inside and outside is ambiguous. The curtain-like screens can be opened up for summer outdoor living, or closed to create a feeling of warmth and enclosure that only the thick massing of concrete can provide.
Why choose concrete?
Concrete’s inherent thermal mass and its ability to be cast into curvilinear forms is incorporated to provide appropriate comfort conditions and a series of enclosed spaces in the house. A “green roof” further improves thermal performance.
By using readily available and transportable components this house is affordable, quick to construct, and doesn’t rely on highly specialised skilled labour. Concrete is a robust and durable material requiring very little maintenance.
What makes this house special?
The Concrete House challenges us to consider the use of pre-existing concrete components as an innovative and environmentally appropriate material.
In this open-plan, free-flowing design, the relationship between built elements and the surrounding landscape is explored and how people might live in the future is a key question being contemplated.
The design of the Concrete House highlights people’s relationships with the landscape, the natural environment and the weather.
Why would you live in a concrete house?
Living in this house would be a commitment to living sustainably, using renewable energy, harvesting rainwater and minimising waste.
The concrete shell structure empowers occupants to personalise their dwelling, as it is robust enough to undergo many changes. The curved walls inspire creativity. For example, you could paint the curved walls to any colour or pattern, both inside and outside. Or you could line the interiors with silk, leather, stone or timber to give a warm, inviting interior or leave the walls bare for a minimalist look.
How it all goes together:
Bianco Walling precast the roof and floor panels in South Australia and Humes precast the pipes in Sydney.
Multiplex provide a lifting crane on site as the house will weigh 92 tons!
The floor panels sit on beams bolted to screw piles or are placed directly on a firm base; the precast pipes are then craned into preset positions and the roof panels are placed on top. Gravity keeps the building together! All this takes less than a day to assemble.
The landscaped roof garden, folding doors, skylights, photovoltaic cells, plumbing, power connections and furniture are then installed on site.
- Just as with the Clay House, Concrete’s inherent thermal mass is used to keep the house cool in summer and warm in winter
- A garden on the roof further enhances thermal massing, and its subsurface wetland cell is used to recycle greywater for toilet flushing and irrigation, dramatically reducing potable (drinkable) water use
- Rain water storage is integrated into the design using the precast concrete columns – almost any volume of water could be stored using this simple method
- AAA rated water fixtures and a waterless composting toilet further reduce water use.
- Appropriate levels of sun shading and solar penetration are provided by opening up the house to a northerly orientation
- Cross flow ventilation – the whole house can be opened up to take advantage of cool breezes and outdoor living
- A solar hot water system and photovoltaic cells for power generation can be installed on the roof
- Concrete has a very long shelf- life. The Pantheon in Rome, which is made of concrete, is nearly 1,900 years old! Lifecycle assessments of concrete show that it is an environmentally sustainable, durable and robust material.
Could you buy one of these now?
The Concrete House demonstrates the use of precast concrete elements, which are readily available on the market.
This is a repeatable, adaptable design – almost any configuration could be made using these simple concrete components. And you could add or remove modules at any time.
Historical or theoretical precedents
The use of pre-made cylindrical components in the Concrete House is a direct reference to Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and his architecture of cardboard cylinders (only this house uses concrete cylinders instead). Shigeru Ban also designed a “Curtain Wall” house in Tokyo 1995. The house has an outer skin of just two elements: transparent glass panels and white fabric curtains. When the curtains are retracted, the house appears almost naked in the middle of Tokyo.
Another prominent Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, has revolutionised the use of concrete in architecture. His works such as ‘Church of the Light’ led to Ando winning the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 1995.
Other references for the design of the Concrete House range from the modernist pavilions of Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson to the interplay of inside and outside seen in the work of Sydney architect Richard Leplastrier as well as much traditional Japanese architecture. All these precedents heighten the connection between people and their environment which in turn is a direct call to pursue a sustainable way of life.
The openness of the planning and the potential to expand and contract the Concrete House design to suit a variety of social groupings, weather conditions and environments will ensure that it will be relevant to future generations.
What are the implications for the future of housing?
Houses of the future will be more flexible to allow for a variety of social conjunctions. House plans will be ambiguous enough to allow for people to decide how to use space and make place. Houses will be environmentally sustainable. Construction will be quick and not require specialised labour. Houses will encourage a positive interaction between people and the natural environment.
About the Architects – NSW Government Architects Office
Peter Poulet is Design Director of the Government Architects Design Directorate. Michael Harvey is a leading Design Architect in the group. The NSW Government Architect is Chris Johnson, who is also the director of the YBE2004 Secretariat for New South Wales.