The Steel House was conceived as a pre-fabricated, modernist, compact dwelling that is both environmentally responsible and utilitarian, and available as an off the shelf, affordable product.

It is a simple steel-framed modular unit, elegantly protected from the elements by a striking over-sailing roof. It is encircled by a delicate steel veranda, and appears to float above the ground, expressing its minimal environmental impact by touching the earth very lightly.

The simple light-filled interior of the house is a showcase for all things steel. Furniture, lighting, textiles and other products by young Australian designers will be displayed, demonstrating playful and unexpected uses for steel in a domestic context.

Why choose steel?

The Steel House demonstrates the use of lightweight steel components to create a robust, transportable dwelling with a modernist aesthetic.

Sponsored by Integrated Steel Solutions, Ripa Steel Fabrications and Tunnel Tech, the house is clad with profiled steel sheet materials that have advanced coatings to resist rust and reduce glare.

Steel has many advantages as a structural material. It has a very high strength to weight ratio – a little goes a long way in structural terms.

Although steel uses considerable energy in its initial manufacture, it can be formed into precisely engineered sections to ensure that no material is wasted.

And steel can be easily re-used and re-cycled at the end of a structure’s life. In addition, a steel frame does not warp or rot, it doesn’t burn or add fuel to bush fires, and it is impervious to termite attack.

Structural steel framing, while long exploited for the construction of public and commercial buildings, is finally being used for mass housing in Australia.

What makes this house special?

The steel-framed module is crowned by a shimmering roof structure that hovers above the house. The roof is eye-catching but dynamic and practical. It is designed to shade the living spaces and the veranda from the sun, reflect radiant heat, support photovoltaic panels and maximise the collection of rainwater.

A single module could be a holiday retreat, a guest studio, a garden office or and extension for elderly relatives. You can also combine two or more modules to form a large family home. The internal layout can easily be configured to suit individual circumstances. And it will be possible to start with a single unit and add a second or third module as a family grows.

The design can be positioned to make the most of any site. The orientation, the views of the surroundings, local wind patterns and approach from the street are all considered when locating the modules on a site. The inherent flexibility of the modular system allows views and sun to be controlled. Use a glazed panel to create a sunny dining area, and solid panel to hide a neighbour’s gable wall.

Because the house is fully prefabricated, disruption to the site is minimal – the only site works required are simple screw-pile foundations and utility connections. Solar panels and grey water treatment have been incorporated. And it can be easily removed, leaving practically no trace of its existence in the landscape.

How it all goes together:

The basic module is 50 sq metres and is transported to site as a fully pre-fabricated unit complete with kitchen and bathroom. The interior is entirely pre-finished prior to transportation.

The roof, veranda decks and accommodation module arrive on a single flat bed-truck. Once on site these pieces are assembled together and bolted into place on the pre-drilled screw-pile footings.

The house is also available in a double-size module, totalling 100 sq metres plus outdoor decks.

Environmental features

  • The double roof reflects radiant heat during the summer months and generates natural air currents that passively cool the building
  • Thermal mass is created using Water H2OGs. In summer the thermal mass cools overnight, keeping the house cooler during the day. In winter they help retain heat.
  • The H2OGs are also rainwater tanks, collecting water for toilet flushing and the garden.
  • The narrow floor plan allows natural cross ventilation between panels of louvred windows.
  • Thick foil-coated insulation retains winter warmth while reflecting
  • summer heat.
  • Electricity is generated by BP Solar photovoltaic panels, and a solar hot
  • water system could be installed on the roof to heat water.
  • Smart energy-efficient appliances and AAA-rated water-saving taps prove that an eco-friendly home can appeal to the most stylish of design conscious consumers.

Why would you live in a steel house of the future?

From the middle of the 18th century, as the Industrial Revolution rolled out across Europe, iron became the material of choice for making bridges, factories, railways, churches, town halls and hospitals required by the rapidly expanding and increasingly urbanised population. Iron, and later steel, was structurally efficient, lightweight, fireproof and cheap to manufacture.

The first great building of the modern age was the Crystal Palace in London, designed by Paxton for the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was erected in just 9 months. Seen by thousands of people, this vast structure was an early exemplar of prefabrication. It was light and transparent, supported by iron and enclosed by acres of sparkling glass. It felt futuristic and incredibly ‘new’ to the inhabitants of heavy, dark masonry houses in gloomy 19th century London.

The architectural world began talking about steel and glass again in the optimistic post-war years. Individual houses, intended to showcase the modern aspirations of their wealthy patrons, caught the public’s imagination.

The Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe is a prominent example. The Case Study Houses in California, promoted by the magazine Art & Architecture and designed by Craig Ellwood, Richard Neutra and Charles Eames amongst others, used prefabricated components and developed the aesthetics of the Farnsworth House to create a new architecture for the age.

In the United Kingdom in the mid 1990’s the Government commissioned an inquiry into the construction industry. The Egan Report led to new sustainable standards that forced public and private developers to innovate. The report set targets for the reduction of construction periods, costs, waste and injuries. It was sugessted that introducing extensive off-site prefabrication would help achieve these goals. There has since been a renaissance in pre-fabrication with developments such as Murray Grove, Raines Dairy, Greenwich Millennium Village and the BedZed zero-energy scheme all using refabrication building systems.

Historical precedents in Australia

Steel and iron have been used in Australia from the first days of European settlement. ‘Corrugated iron’ has covered walls and roofs throughout the continent. It is cheap, easy to transport, durable, strong, supple and available everywhere.

Many of Australia’s most iconic modern buildings are clad with a new generation of steel cladding products that are coated to resist rust and reflect radiant heat.

One of the leaders in the use of steel in housing is Glenn Murcutt, the only Australian architect to win the world’s most prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 2002.

About the Architects – modabode

Sarah Bickford and Paul Lucas established Modabode in early 2004 to develop and market a modernist, eco-friendly prefabricated house that is capable of mass production.

Sarah and Paul graduated from UK schools of architecture in the mid 1990’s and went onto work for influential architectural practices in London, England.