Innovarchi’s concept for the timber house explores the single-family dwelling and its relationship to the environment.

The architects, Stephanie Smith and Ken McBryde of Innovarchi, have conceived of a surface that is metaphorically a piece of landscape. Based on the idea of the Möbius Loop or Klein Bottle this surface, or skin, is simultaneously roof, wall and floor. It undulates to form internal and external spaces that blur the distinction between the natural and the built environment.

The skin, which is made of a timber-fibre cladding, has several purposes: it is acts as water catchment, shading mechanism and solar collector. A red streak of solar cells cuts through the surface of the building, generating renewable energy from the sun’s energy as it strikes the building.

An integrated water management system, designed by Penny Allan and Astrid Brokamp of GAO, incorporates an internal landscape in the centre of the building, which is used to recycle captured water.

Whilst some typical timber products are represented, the house aims to challenge traditional notions about how timber can be used and what constitutes a timber product. It introduces advances in materials technology using timber-fibre products that, with carefully managed farming, can be an excellent renewable resource.

Why choose timber?

Timber is a sustainable resource, with many species able to be grown in softwood plantations or ecoselect managed natural Australian hardwood forests.

It is affordable and easily worked by relatively unskilled labour.

The material is soft, warm and tactile.

Unlike clay or concrete, timber-framed structures have a relatively low thermal capacity, so the design considerations are different. Timber-framed structures can be easily insulated, and will have a fast response to heat or cooling because you don’t need to heat or cool the entire material for it to perform thermally.

What makes this house special?

The Timber House challenges: the relationship between interior and exterior space; and

  • the application of timber building materials and timber-based products.
  • It also serves to demonstrate:
  • that pre-fabricated buildings do not have to be uninteresting boxes but can be complex forms and spaces; and
  • timber is easy to construct, modify and move in large pre-fabricated pieces.

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

Despite an incredibly complex geometry, the Timber House can be designed with a large variety of configurations.

In fact, it is due to this complex geometry that such variety of forms is possible. Using computers to generate the cutting patterns, a house could be fabricated in the factory and trucked out to site in a matter of weeks.

You can also choose from a wide assortment of internal and external finishes. The fixing system for the Timber House allows occupants to change the finishes according to season. So in winter you could line the house with a warm, intimate colour and texture, whilst in summer you could change to a cool, tranquil combination.

How it all goes together:

The structure was pre-cut in Victoria and transported flat-packed to NSW where the pieces were assembled in a workshop in Gosford.

The composite layers of the external cladding are fixed in place with screws, 3M tape and Dual-lock repositionable mounting tape.

Hard wood strip timber flooring is laid directly onto the floor framing and the eco-veneer ceiling and wall panels are attached to the underside of the primary structure using 3M tape.

The built-in furniture is also fabricated using e-veneer.

Double glazed windows and the Solar Titania photovoltaic panels are fitted on site.

The building is divided into three main pieces and transported to site on low-loader trucks. The pieces are then joined together, with removable cladding to seal each joint.

Environmental features

  • The LVL (laminated veneer lumber) structure and plywood panels are renewable plantation pine
  • The Australian hardwoods used are from eco-select sustainably managed forests
  • The external cladding by Aust Panel is a wood-fibre and phenolic resin product
  • E-veneer is made from wood fibre, rather than peeling logs
  • The cardboard foil composite insulation is fully recyclable
  • Solar Titania cells are an Australian invention, using dye-based nanotechnology to generate electricity
  • Solar hot water heating using a unique solar tube is incorporated into the roof design
  • Sensor taps, greywater toilet and AAAA-rated showerheads conserve water
  • A wetland “cell” set into the deck recycles greywater, and a bioretention garden treats rain water before storage and reuse as hot water

Theoretical precedents

Innovarchi’s concept for the Timber House is based on the Möbius Loop and Klein Bottle. Like the deceptive drawings of MC Escher, the timber cladding in this house is simultaneously floor, walls and roof.

Fully prefabricated timber housing has been thoroughly explored before. For example, the traditional timber houses of the tropics are still moved around the country on the back of a truck, often having been simply cut down the middle, and are rejoined on arrival at the new location.

However it is only now, as computer technology infiltrates the building industry, that we can create the complex geometries, intricate cutting patterns, tight tolerances and environmentally sustainable features that you can see in the Timber House.

What are the implications for the future of housing?

Housing in the future should be quicker to build, more ecologically sensitive, offer more choice in shape and form without affecting price.
Using computers to generate cutting patterns and complex geometries, excitingly creative houses can be fabricated in a factory and trucked out to site in a matter of weeks, and can fully integrate many or all of the environmental features shown here.

Could you buy one of these now?

All the technology is available to build a Timber House of the Future in almost any configuration.

About the Architects – Innovarchi

Innovarchi is an award winning design and research based practice directed by Stephanie Smith and Ken McBryde. With many years experience in global architectural and urban design, including working with Herman Hertzberger and Renzo Piano, the Innovarchi team aims to generate exceptional architecture and memorable public places.

Innovarchi pursues ecologically sustainable design through the sensitive use of materials, appropriate climatic solutions and integration of built forms with landscape.

Innovarchi were the local representative architects for Renzo Piano Building Workshop designing the new highly innovative office and residential towers, Aurora Place in Sydney.